Our Research Center
The mission of the Maryland Psychiatric Research Center (MPRC) is the creative acquisition of new knowledge on schizophrenia spectrum-related pathologies with the goal of understanding etiology and pathophysiology and addressing unmet therapeutic needs.
The Research Center
The MPRC provides unique and research friendly clinical services for mentally ill citizens of Maryland.These core values provide the foundation for scientific study and clinical care at the MPRC: (1) Integrity in the conduct of science and clinical care; (2) Faculty responsibility for original and independent science; (3) Excellence in teaching and mentoring to prepare the next generation of scientists; (4) Collegiality to foster multidisciplinary science; (5) Translational science to advance discovery to clinical application; (6) Development of unique diagnostic and therapeutic opportunities for persons with schizophrenia spectrum disorders.
The MPRC is located on the campus of the Spring Grove Hospital Center, an off-site program of the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM) that includes an imaging center fully dedicated to the MPRC research mission. The core of the T32 program involves 24 university faculty drawn from mid and late career investigators including 9 clinical scientists, 7 basic neuroscientists and a senior biostatistician. Co-location in the same buildings facilitates extensive interaction between basic and clinical faculty and promotes shared science related to schizophrenia and psychosis-related research.
This translational and multidisciplinary approach to clinical and basic science has been fundamental to the institution since 1977 the year MPRC was transferred to the UMSOM. Clinical and basic science faculty have a track record of shared NIMH grants, including 34 years of NIMH P50 center grants and a recently renewed Silvio O. Conte Center, Kynurenic Acid and Cognitive Abnormalities in Schizophrenia (2019-2024), that includes pre-clinical and clinical projects related to the role of kynurenic acid in the pathophysiology of impaired cognition. An exciting development in this context is the initiation of a project line that promises unique translational opportunities regarding brain white matter pathology in miniature pigs.
The Center grants and individual collaborations exemplifies our capacity to bring faculty together in areas of shared interest. Our standing in the research community is enhanced by virtue of being home to one of the premier journals in the field, the Schizophrenia Bulletin (see description and MPRC editors below) In addition to MPRC collaborations, we are integrated in translational projects across the UMBSOM campus in areas such as gut microbiotic research and computational modeling and artificial intelligence.
Five main Programs drive research at the MPRC. In addition, we have a very strong Biostatistics effort and are home to a Conte Center, Maryland Brain Collection and Schizophrenia Bulletin (5 yr Impact 9.4).
5 Main Research Programs
Research in the Outpatient Research Program (ORP) supports the over-arching goals of the MPRC to acquire further knowledge of the pathophysiology, course and treatment of schizophrenia and related disorders. Clinical trials are designed to assess the effectiveness of pharmacologic compounds, and non-medication research protocols seek to better understand the biological mechanisms that underlie or are a consequence of schizophrenia.
Clinical Care is personal and individualized. For admission, patients must have a schizophrenia or schizoaffective diagnosis and must be capable of understanding and appreciating the research nature of the clinic. Diagnostic consultation is provided as a service to the community for patient and families who wish for clinical information but are not interested in research clinic participation.
Cognitive Affective Neuroscience Schizophrenia
Jim Gold, Ph.D.
People with schizophrenia are challenged by psychosis: they have unusual beliefs and perceptual experiences that are often highly distressing. Many also have difficulties with motivation and social engagement, often referred to as negative symptoms. In addition, people with schizophrenia also have cognitive impairments that limit their ability to work, pursue educational goals, and function independently in the community.
We conduct research in all three of these areas using EEG, fMRI, eye-tracking and computer-base psychophysical tasks to better understand the basic cognitive and neural mechanisms that are implicated in these different aspects of the illness. The long-term goal of this work is to develop a mechanistic understanding of the origins of these symptoms in order to guide novel treatment development strategies.
The Program is focused on treatment-oriented research that strives to optimize and best treat patients in a more personalized way. Specifically, this work has focused on women with schizophrenia and optimizing clozapine's efficacy and safety in population of African descent patients. Additionally, a collaborative team from Johns Hopkins University and Harvard examines a subgroup of people with schizophrenia who have a high degree of inflammation and have a unique immune response to gliadin, a protein found in wheat and other foods. The TRP is also a leader in new technologies involved with language and social media collection and new ways to detect medications in the body and new biomarkers.
A cornerstone program of the TRP is the Treatment Research Unit (TRU), a 24 bed fully staffed inpatient unit. The TRP also houses a Brief Stay Unit (BSU), a research specific short stay 3 bed unit that is dedicated to challenge and early phase studies.
Center for Brain Imaging
Jim Gold, Ph.D.
One of our primary missions is to use cutting-edge multimodal imaging in conjunction with pharmacology, genetics, neurophysiology and behavioral techniques to find the cause of and better treatment for severe mental illnesses.
The faculty maintain a strong technical expertise in a wide range of imaging techniques in fMRI, spectroscopy, DTI, and a number of other MR imaging methods. We emphasize applications of imaging techniques in genetic imaging, pharmacological imaging, functional, structural and network imaging modeling.
The University of Maryland Center for Brain Imaging Research, is a designated imaging research facility in our campuses. We facilitate the broad clinical and translational neuroscience effort on imaging research.
One of the three founding Programs of the MPRC, the Neuroscience Program is an integral part of the institute, providing expertise to complement the clinical Programs. In turn, the design of many preclinical studies is influenced by and benefits from discoveries and developments in the MPRC's clinical units. This cross-talk is particularly useful because of the complex character of psychiatric illnesses that include multifactorial etiology and a heterogeneous phenotype. Thus, ongoing "translational" interactions between Programs are a critical component of MPRC philosophy and contribute substantially to the successful pursuit of all individual programmatic missions.
The scientific principles underlying the projects in the Neuroscience Program are guided by the need to explore, and ultimately comprehend, the nature of brain dysfunction in schizophrenia and other psychiatric illnesses. This requires a broad approach, ranging from molecular and cellular studies, chemogenetics to study specific neurocircuitry, psychopharmacology and the examination of normal and abnormal brain function in whole animals.
Additional Programs & Schizophrenia Bulletin
Robert Schwarcz, Ph.D.,PI
The central hypothesis of the Sylvia O. Conte Center is that the cognitive deficits afflicting people with schizophrenia are causally related to an increase in the brain levels of kynurenic acid, a major breakdown product of the dietary amino acid tryptophan.
The Center is structured into four complementary and synergistic projects, ranging from preclinical research to studies in healthy human subjects and in individuals with schizophrenia. Together, the studies in animals and humans are designed to:
explore how elevations in brain kynurenic acid levels lead to cognitive abnormalities; and
determine whether pharmacological interventions designed to reduce brain kynurenic acid levels are a useful approach to combat cognitive impairments in individuals with schizophrenia.
Shuo Chen, Ph.D.
Director of Biostatistics
& Data Science
The group works on a wide range of research topics include spatial-temporal model for brain imaging data analysis, brain network analysis, imaging-genetics association analysis (based on consortium data UKBB and ENIGMA), genetics-imaging large scale mediation analysis, meta-analysis of clinical trials with individual level data, and deep learning methods for predictive analysis.
Dr. Chen's trainees have won multiple young investigator competition awards from American Statsitical Association, Neural Information Processing Systems, and others. Dr. Chen is a PI for NIDA DP1 project investigating genetics-brain-addiction pathways and risk analysis.
Maryland Brain Collection
The Maryland Brain Collection is affiliated with the National Institutes of Health NeuroBioBank.
The Maryland Brain Collection is managed by researchers at the Maryland Psychiatric Research Center (MPRC). MPRC scientists are dedicated to understanding the causes and improving the treatment of mental illness.
Started in 1988 by researchers at the MPRC, The Maryland Brain Collection is supported by the University of Maryland, grants from the National Institutes of Health and by donations from private foundations and individuals.
The Maryland Brain Collection is affiliated with the National Institutes of Health NeuroBioBank, associated with the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner for the State of Maryland and other donor sources.
MPRC scientists collaborate with scientists from around the world to understand how abnormalities in brain tissue relate to mental illness.
Schizophrenia Bulletin (SB) publishes recent developments and empirically based hypotheses regarding the etiology and treatment of schizophrenia. SB views the field as broad and deep, and publishes new knowledge ranging from the molecular basis to social and cultural factors. SB gives new emphasis to translational reports which simultaneously highlight basic neurobiological mechanisms and clinical manifestations.