Rutgers University Cell and DNA Repository (RUCDR) has established a stem cell repository for the National Institute of Mental Health that will better enable researchers to study a variety of mental health disorders, including autism, attention deficit disorder, major depression, and schizophrenia, that affect millions of Americans.
“The biology of mental health disorders has been especially difficult to study because brain tissue from affected individuals is seldom available,” said principal investigator Jay A. Tischfield, Duncan and Nancy Macmillan Professor and director of the Human Genetics Institute. “With the award of this new grant, we will provide researchers with new biological tools that will greatly enhance our understanding of the biological basis of mental disorders.”
The NIMH Repository Supporting Stem Cell Research will be part of the existing NIMH Center for Collaborative Genetic Studies on Mental Disorders which has been based at Rutgers since 1998. The NIMH has awarded Rutgers $96 million since then to establish cell lines, DNA and RNA for the NIMH Genetics Initiative by collecting samples from families with a wide range of mental health disorders. The center’s goal – which is being expanded with a $1.2 million stem cell supplement – is to increase the repertoire of resources to researchers around the world.
Tischfield says researchers at the new Rutgers-based NIMH Stem Cell Center will use skin or other cells from people with mental health disorders, such as schizophrenia, to create stem cells within two to three months that can then become brain cells such as neurons.
Until now, research on the causes and treatment of mental health disorders has been hampered by the fact that brain tissue from someone with the mental disorder was seldom available until they died, a time when brain cells are quickly degrading.
The new method to create stem cells – called induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS) – produces human stem cells that are similar to embryonic stem cells, but which do not require embryonic material for their establishment. iPS cells originate from adult body cells that are reprogrammed in the laboratory by inserting foreign genes into the cell, enabling it to become any type of cell in the body. The new stem cells could provide scientists with the necessary clues they need to determine the causes of mental disorder and develop effective drugs to combat them.
“It is amazing that we can take a tiny piece of skin from a person with a particular disease, comprised of cells that were thought of as recently as several years ago as being in a terminal state of differentiation, and turn back the clock to induce those cells to become stem cells that have the potential to become a neuron, or a heart cell, or any of a number of cell types,” said Michael Sheldon, assistant research professor in the Department of Genetics and the project’s co-director.
The collaboration between Rutgers and the National Institute of Mental Health will provide researchers throughout the world studying causes of mental health and other diseases with iPS cells derived from people with anxiety disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism, spectrum disorders, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, depression, eating disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and schizophrenia, to better understand how these diseases originate and progress.
The RUCDR is the largest repository in the world and provides DNA, RNA and cell lines to hundreds of research laboratories across the globe studying mental health disorders and drug and alcohol abuse as well as the causes of digestive, liver, and kidney disease, and diabetes.