New Treatments Based on Specific Genetic and Autoimmune Causes of Psychiatric Illness Under Investigation

July 5, 2023

Doctors and researchers have found that some patients with refractory schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder have underlying lupus, and once treated for lupus, their psychiatric symptoms disappear. Dr. Sander Marx found that two patients with schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder who were completely detached from reality and had been institutionalized for decades almost completely recovered following treatment for lupus. This finding has impressive implications for the future of psychiatric care. Screening for underlying causes of psychiatric disorders could help many patients.

This finding led the way for the development of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Center for Precision Psychiatry and Mental Health at Columbia University. This clinic aims to identify underlying genetic and autoimmune causes for various psychiatric conditions and then use this information to develop treatments. Scientists and doctors working in neuroscience, epidemiology, statistics, and genomics have been brought together to tackle the issues of diagnosing complex psychiatric diseases in a way that is less reliant on doctors’ intuition and is supplemented with diagnostic testing using biomarkers and genetics. 

This strategy is being called “precision psychiatry,” and the plan is to tackle psychiatric disorders in an individualized way, similar to cancer treatments. A one-size-fits-all approach to diagnosis and treatment is ineffective for many patients. By mapping the genetic mutations that are associated with psychiatric diseases, researchers hope to develop precise testing, tracking, and treatment tools that can enable better care for more people.

At the Stavros Niarchos Foundation conference later this month, researchers from the new Center for Precision Psychiatry and Mental Health are set to release the findings of a study on autoimmune causes of psychiatric diseases. Hopefully, this marks a turning point in treatment for psychiatric diseases and their connection to autoimmunity.