The stigma around mental illness is still strong, and there is growing recognition that these diseases are growing in prevalence, sometimes, quite tragically, with fatal consequences. Biopharmaceutical researchers across the country are working to gain a greater understanding of the biological basis of the conditions that make up mental illness such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, severe depression and the circumstances that can lead to suicide.
While there is nothing more complex than the brain, we know more today about the biological mechanisms underlying disease than ever before. Today, we have more ability to intervene with different treatments, and we have new and different tools and technologies that make it possible to do things we would never have dreamt imaginable. A few examples include:
- Induced Pluripotent Stem (iPS) cell discovery, which transforms skin cells or blood cells into different cell types in the body, allows us to research parts of the brain once thought impossible.
- Advances in our understanding of synaptic and neural plasticity have continued to provide better ways to track how the brain processes information. Neuroplasticity describes how the brain continually regulates the strength of information processing in different synapses and circuits. This includes regulating thoughts, emotions, perceptions, learning and memory, in the short-term, medium-term and long-term.
- Better neuroimaging technology helps increase our ability to pinpoint exactly where in the brain neuronal breakdown occurs. This allows us to better target treatments for patients.