RCSI receives €1.3m to further develop prognostic blood test

1 Feb 2021

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The grant comes from Wellcome’s Psychosis Flagship, which aims to improve the diagnosis of psychosis.

RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences has received a €1.3m grant to further develop a blood test that can predict whether a person is likely to develop a psychotic disorder later in life.

The grant comes from Wellcome’s Psychosis Flagship, which aims to reduce the global burden of psychosis by improving diagnosis.

RCSI researchers had previously analysed blood samples taken from people at clinical high risk of psychosis. These individuals were followed up for several years to see who did and did not develop a psychotic disorder.

The scientists then assessed the proteins in blood samples and used machine learning to analyse this data. This enabled them to find patterns of proteins in the early blood samples that could predict who did and did not develop a psychotic disorder.

According to RCSI, the most accurate test was based on the 10 most predictive proteins. It correctly identified those who would go on to develop a psychotic disorder in 93pc of high-risk cases, and correctly identified those who would not in 80pc of cases.

Prof David Cotter, a professor of molecular psychiatry at RCSI, said the grant will help to further the research and will benefit patients directly.

“Ideally, we would like to prevent psychotic disorders, but that requires being able to accurately identify who is most at risk. This grant will allow us to study these markers in other people at high risk of psychosis to confirm our previous findings,” he said.

RCSI will collaborate with researchers from the UCD Conway Institute and from Cardiff University. Other collaborators include researchers from the University of Melbourne, Yale University, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of Bristol, Trinity College Dublin and King’s College London.

The team hopes to develop a commercially available test for use in clinical practice so people can be treated earlier and more effectively.

Prof Fergal O’Brien, director of research and innovation at RCSI, said the funding will be “instrumental” in translating research from the lab directly to patients.

Dr Lynsey Bilsland, deputy head of programme, translation and portfolio integration at Wellcome, added that identifying individuals who are most at risk of developing psychosis is a key challenge in the field.

“Overcoming this could enable early interventions that will help improve outcomes for patients, which is the vision of Wellcome’s Psychosis Flagship,” she said.

RCSI’s funding announcement follows news that five Science Foundation Ireland research centres will receive €193m in funding over the next six years.

Jenny Darmody is the editor of Silicon Republic