Neuroradiology Fellowship Program Director and Assistant Professor JP Yu, MD, PhD started the Integrative Systems Neuroimaging Lab when he joined the Department of Radiology in 2015. The lab looks at how genes, the environment, and gene-environment interactions impact the brain’s microstructure in neurocognitive and neuropsychiatric illnesses. They use neuroimaging to help diagnose, characterize, and track outcomes in neurologic and psychiatric diseases. Lean more about this lab’s exciting research below.
One of the reasons Dr. Yu was initially interested in this research is the high prevalence of mental health disorders and the lack of relevant imaging tools available. “Globally, 1 in 7 people suffer from a mental or substance use disorder. Currently there are no imaging biomarkers or imaging methods available to diagnose or track therapeutic treatment response in these patients, thus making psychiatric illness one of the most intractable group of diseases worldwide,” he says.
Dr. Yu was also interested in psychiatric research because it is undergoing a major paradigm shift. Psychiatric research is moving away from clinical phenotypes towards biological psychiatry and characterizing the biological processes that drive these psychiatric disease states. “If we are to use imaging to characterize and quantify psychiatric illness, as a field, we have to have a better understanding of how neuroimaging methods (past, present, and future) quantify biological changes occurring in the brain,” he says.
The research in the lab is only getting more exciting as they continue to explore new projects. Recently, one of the graduate students in the lab authored a paper describing how neuroglial alterations in the brain, which are common in neuropsychiatric illnesses, significantly alter commonly used quantitative imaging parameters. “It was a big first step to demonstrate the limitations of the current state-of-the-art neuroimaging techniques we’re using as applied to psychiatric neuroimaging research,” says Dr. Yu.
Currently, the lab is expanding upon this work and conducting research to understand and improve neuroimaging techniques in psychiatric neuroimaging. In addition, they are investigating how the environment – such as chronic stress and the gut microbiome – affect quantitative measures of brain microstructure. Dr. Yu plans to continue this work in the future to help increase our understanding of neuropsychiatric disorders and to improve our use of neuroimaging techniques in detection and treatment.