Skip to main content

Maryland Psychiatric Research Center at the University of Maryland School of Medicine to Participate in $11 Million International Grant to Develop New Tools for Diagnosing and Treating Brain Disorders

January 09, 2015

Bankole A. Johnson, MD, DSc, MBChB, MPhil
“ENIGMA” Study Will Focus On Big Data, Novel Analytics and Imaging

Bankole A. Johnson, MD, DSc, MBChB, MPhil, professor and chair of the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UM SOM) department of psychiatry, and Dean E. Albert Reece, MD, PhD, MBA, announced today that the Maryland Psychiatric Research Center (MPRC) will take part in the Enhancing NeuroImaging Genetics through Meta-Analysis (ENIGMA) study, a worldwide study to developing new analytical tools to better understand mental disorders. The center, which is part of the department of psychiatry at the UM SOM, will receive nearly $200,000 as part of the $11 million grant from the National Institutes of Health.
The UM SOM’s share of the project will be led by Peter Kochunov, PhD, (right) an associate professor of psychiatry, who will help develop novel analytical tools, and will also contribute genetic data. ENIGMA, which is named after the famed Allied code-breaking initiative during World War II, unites brain researchers in 33 countries to discover more about brain disorders such as schizophrenia and depression. 
Since its inception five years ago, the international research alliance has collected data from 30,000 people at more than 185 sites. The ENIGMA Project identifies new sources of disease risk by screening brain scans and genetic tests collected across 33 countries. Computing facilities worldwide analyze ENIGMA’s data around the clock, in order to detect effects of treatments or risk factors that may vary worldwide.
For its part, the MPRC will focus particularly on the genetics of schizophrenia. “The etiology and pathophysiology of mental illnesses, especially schizophrenia, are very complex,” said MPRC interim director Robert W. Buchanan, MD, who is professor of psychiatry at the UM SOM, as well as an expert on schizophrenia. “This kind of cooperation, between researchers at Maryland, and around the world, represents an important approach for understanding the causes of these illnesses.”
ENIGMA will work to uncover better diagnostic tools for dementia, schizophrenia and developmental disorders such as autism, which have been especially challenging to treat, as their root causes are unknown. “This work will help illuminate one of the enduring mysteries of modern science,” said Prof. Kochunov. “Using these tools will eventually give us clues for new methods to help patients suffering from a range of brain disorders.”
The project will also benefit another UM SOM effort, the Brain Science Research Consortium Unit, a new research collaborative that will bring together UM SOM faculty from multiple disciplines to better understand the brain and develop therapies for a range of neurological disorders. “Many of the scientists here who are working on ENIGMA are also part of the consortium. These researchers and others will be able to use the large amounts of data generated by ENIGMA to further the research they do with the consortium,” said Prof. Johnson, who is leading the consortium.
The project is part of a new approach to medicine, using large amounts of information from thousands or millions of patients to glean patterns that would otherwise remain hidden. “The use of ‘big data’ in medicine is the wave of the future,” said Dean Reece, who is vice president of medical affairs, the University of Maryland and the John Z. and Akiko Bowers Distinguished Professor. “This work shows how we can use new approaches to understand extremely complex diseases. I am extremely excited to see what Dr. Kochunov and his colleagues discover as this innovative collaboration moves forward.” 
About the University of Maryland School of Medicine

The University of Maryland School of Maryland, chartered in 1807 as the first public medical school in the United States, continues today as a leader in accelerating innovation and discovery in medicine. The School of Medicine is the founding school of the University of Maryland, and is an integral part of the 11-campus University System of Maryland. Located on the University of Maryland’s Baltimore campus, the School of Medicine works closely with the University of Maryland Medical Center and Medical System to provide a research-intensive, academic and clinically based education. With 43 academic departments, centers and institutes and a faculty of more than 3,000 physicians and research scientists, plus more than $400 million in extramural funding, the School is regarded as one of the leading biomedical research institutions in the U.S.A., with top-tier faculty and programs in vaccine development, cancer, brain science, surgery and transplantation, trauma and emergency medicine, and human genomics, among other centers of excellence. The School is not only concerned with the health of the citizens of Maryland and the U.S., but also has a global presence, with research and treatment facilities in more than 35 countries around the world.


Office of Public Affairs
655 West Baltimore Street
Bressler Research Building 14-002
Baltimore, Maryland 21201-1559

Contact Media Relations
(410) 706-5260

Related stories