An estimated three-quarters of all psychiatric disorders debut prior to or during adolescence. To address this, in October 2021, Mount Sinai established the Jeff and Lisa Blau Adolescent Consultation Center for Resilience and Treatment. The Center will initially focus on schizophrenia, a devastating mental illness that affects 1 percent of the population and has been resistant to breakthroughs in diagnosis, treatment, and prevention.
“Psychiatric disorders are illnesses of the young, and the Blau Center addresses the window of vulnerability that exists in the second decade of life through a strong clinical and research platform,” says René S. Kahn, MD, PhD, Esther and Joseph Klingenstein Professor and Chair, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health, who will serve as inaugural Director of the Center. “We’re grateful to Jeff and Lisa Blau for recognizing the gravity of the problem and for providing generous funding that will increase our understanding of psychiatric disorders and set the stage for innovative new treatments for patients with these lifelong conditions.”
The Blau Center will combine clinical work and scientific research to ensure patients have the most comprehensive care and that researchers have the most advanced tools in clinical data science, artificial intelligence, neuroimaging, and genomics.
“Psychiatric disorders are illnesses of the young, and the Blau Center addresses the window of vulnerability that exists in the second decade of life through a strong clinical and research platform.”
- René S. Kahn, MD, PhD
“We’re committed to accelerating novel therapeutic development by leveraging the considerable knowledge of genetics we’ve gained over the past 15 years,” says Alexander Charney, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry, Genetics and Genomic Sciences, Neuroscience, and Neurosurgery, and Executive Director of the Blau Center. “And most importantly, we won’t be afraid to take some risks.”
Dr. Kahn, an internationally known expert on the neurobiology of schizophrenia, echoes that perspective. “We’re using the same drugs with the same mechanisms of action that were developed in the 1950s, and therefore we need innovative new therapeutics. We believe the Blau Center can set itself apart by pushing the boundaries of discovery in ways no other institution has yet done.”
Over the past decade, Dr. Charney’s lab has used genomic data to dissect the clinical features of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. He is a strong advocate of using this method to develop experimental therapeutics for early phase clinical trials. In fact, clinical trials will be pivotal to the work of the Blau Adolescent Consultation Center. Scientists there will initiate and participate in large, multisite studies examining and
validating treatment interventions in psychosis and schizophrenia. “We have two
or three genes that we believe are very promising, and our goal is to implement
a first-in-human therapeutic for several mental illnesses,” says Dr. Charney.
Researchers at the Blau Center will launch comparative studies of drugs on the market to determine and provide valuable guidance around those that work and those that do not and what can be done to improve them for adolescents and young adults. In addition, machine learning experts will mine hospital health records of young patients spanning many years to inform treatment protocols.
Another novel approach will be physically moving the Blau Center’s research into the clinic. Social workers, for example, will partner with research teams, and research coordinators will communicate regularly with all of the Center’s physicians, including residents. “At an academic center such as Mount Sinai, clinical practice and research need to be one and the same,” Dr. Charney says. “This is a huge programming goal of ours, which we believe will help to change the culture of how we work and, ultimately, the treatment and progression of psychiatric illness.”
René S. Kahn, MD, PhD
Esther and Joseph Klingenstein Professor and Chair, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health
Alexander Charney, MD, PhD
Assistant Professor of Psychiatry, Genetics and Genomic Sciences, Neuroscience, and Neurosurgery