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Autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression are amongst the most disabling and costly diseases in the world. They lead to much suffering for the affected individuals and their relatives, and huge economic costs for the society. The disorders have typically a chronic course and the majority of suicides in any population occur in these patient groups. There is a substantial co-morbidity and familial co-aggregation between the disorders and several lines of evidence indicate shared genetic risk factors. Environmental risk factors, in particular factors thought to affect neurodevelopment are also shared between autism, ADHD and schizophrenia, but less so with bipolar affective disorder and other affective disorders. The causes of the disorders are largely unknown and the treatments are ineffective and burdened by adverse effects. It is imperative to increase the understanding of the specific causes and the associated biologic disease mechanisms in order to improve the treatment - and maybe even prevention - of these severe disorders.

The Research Idea

The iPSYCH initiative commenced March 1, 2012, funded by an unprecedented grant from the Lundbeck Foundation, so far totaling 241 million DKK. Through collaboration and generous co-funding through especially the Stanley Centre at the Broad Institute, the sample and scope of the study has been greatly expanded. The iPSYCH initiative integrates unique sets of massive and multilayered data. The primary data sources are the many Danish registers allowing inclusion of all individuals diagnosed with psychiatric disorders at Danish clinics, as well as construction of longitudinal life-course histories for cases, controls and their families. Another crucial source is the Danish Neonatal Screening Biobank including neonatal blood samples from all the children born in Denmark since 1981. On the basis of these sources we generate genetic as well as environmental information relevant to the etiology, course and outcome of mental disorders. Thus our study is a case control study, so far including more than 80,000 individuals, but in essence representing a total national birth cohort of more than 2.2 million persons followed for up to 35 years.

Impact and Perspective

It is our ambition that iPSYCH and its many collaborators may dramatically increase our insight into disease aetiology and pathophysiology, as well as elucidating basic processes and pathways crucial to specific functions of the human brain. The identification of each single new biologic or environmental risk factor, specific disease mechanism, or complex cause-outcome trajectory will provide fundamental, new insight and open new avenues for further research in many years to come. We hope that the results obtained will have conceptual as well as clinical perspectives, including revealing new targets for pharmaceutical intervention, new environmental causes or gene-environment interactions potentially allowing for preventive measures, and providing the basis for biological classification and diagnosis. Thus, the long-term perspective and explicit goal of the iPSYCH initiative is alleviating suffering from these common and disabling disorders and diminishing the costs of the diseases to the society.

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