Psychiatric disorders are well known to have a significant heritable component and this has been demonstrated conclusively in family, twin and adoption studies. Despite this, it has proven difficult to identify any individual or multiple biologically linked genetic parameters that explain a substantial proportion of this heritable variance.
Modern genetics technology allows characterization of genetic variants across the entire human genome. These approaches have not only confirmed the role of genetic factors for risk of psychiatric disorders and highlighted the fact that such risk is likely conferred by a multitude of factors with small individual effects, but also demonstrated that a substantial portion of genetic risk is shared between different psychiatric illnesses (Kendler, 2013).
While some of the illness linked variants were found to aggregate in certain biological pathways, it is currently not possible to predict genetic illness risk at the individual patient level to an extent that would be useful clinically. IMAGEMEND, however, has a clear multi-modal focus, aiming to integrate genetic readouts with those of brain structure and function as well as those of environmental risk. This will give an unprecedented opportunity to bridge the gap between genetic underpinning, environmental influences and alterations at the neural systems level and may lead to a new generation of clinical tools to aid in the clinical management of psychiatric illnesses.
The IMAGEMEND consortium is also in an ideal position to evaluate the alignment of such illness-associated, multi-modal biological patterns with currently established diagnostic constructs, which may uncover biologically defined and potentially trans-diagnostic subgroups of patients and highlight biological mechanisms that may be the basis for development of novel therapeutics.