Jan 31 2017 Posted: 12:12 GMT

Researchers in NUI Galway have issued a call for patients and healthy volunteers to participate in a scientific study to unlock some of the mysteries around schizophrenia.

iRELATE is a European Research Council funded project examining the impact of genes, early life experiences and the immune system on the brain. A particular focus of the iRELATE study is to understand how genetic and environmental factors impact on social thinking and interaction, a key factor in schizophrenia related disability.

A chronic and severe mental disorder, schizophrenia (which affects between 0.5-1% of the  population) usually manifests between the ages of 18 and 30, affecting how a person thinks, feels, and behaves. Among that age group, the World Health organisation lists schizophrenia among the top five most disabling conditions, ahead of blindness and paraplegia.

Gary Donohoe, Professor of Psychology and Director of the Center for Neuroimaging and cognitive Genomics (NICOG) at NUI Galway, is heading up the research project. “Schizophrenia is poorly understood by society as a whole, and there is also an incredible amount that we as clinicians and scientists have yet to understand. In this study we are trying to better understand schizophrenia by looking at how our brains process the social information that allows us to negotiate social situations. We know that there are genetic and environmental factors involved, but how these combine is uncertain. One idea is that these factors may influence brain development via our immune system – a biological system increasingly implicated in schizophrenia risk.”

iRELATE will use a combination of state of the art neuroimaging, cognitive testing and molecular and genetic techniques to examine differences in genes and immune function across research participants, and how these may affect the brain. Research will be carried out across two sites in Galway and Dublin: at University Hospital Galway’s HRB Clinical Research Facility  and St. James’s Hospital’s Wellcome-HRB Clinical Research Facility and Centre for Advanced Medical Imaging (CAMI), in collaboration with colleagues from Trinity College Dublin’s Department of Psychiatry.

The iRELATE project is currently recruiting research volunteers, including patients with  schizophrenia, and healthy volunteers. “We are asking people to reach out to our team to find out a little bit more about the project and how they may possibly be part of us and help us better understand this condition. Learning about this condition will better inform treatments of the future.”

To find out more about volunteering for iRELATE, e-mail: iRELATE@nuigalway.ie ,  telephone 091 495 953, or visit us on our facebook page at www.facebook.com/irelateproject/  or at https://www.nuigalway.ie/nicog/irelate/

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