Laureate Lays Foundation

Using Tulsa as a laboratory for mental illness, executives from foundations and universities are creating a critical mass here in biomedical research.
Today, construction is under way at the Laureate Psychiatric Clinic and Hospital on a $16 million, two-story, 38,000-SF research facility.
The Tulsa-based cooperative, launched more than a year ago and commonly referred to as the “Tulsa Research Quadrangle,” will conduct brain imaging research. The “bio-informatics” field uses scientific disciplines like computational biology, applied mathematics, statistics, computer science, chemistry and biochemistry — usually on a molecular level.
The objective is to correctly diagnose, treat and prevent several mental disorders, said John Hale, associate professor of computer science at the University of Tulsa.
“Those are two large targets for the research – improving diagnosis and targeted treatment options for mental illness – specifically, for eating disorders, substance abuse and mood disorders. Of course, being that it is research, a lot more could fall out of it,” Hale said.
The four institutions, the University of Tulsa, Warren Medical Research Institute, OU-Tulsa and Oklahoma City-based Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation will perform the research in Tulsa. While not large enough on their own, together they will merge equipment, technicians, researchers and patients.
Over the next seven years it is expected that the Warren Foundation will contribute $60 million, said Patrick McKee, who works with the OU Health Sciences in Oklahoma City and Laureate Psychiatric Clinic and Hospital in Tulsa. He represents Warren Medical Research Foundation in research projects with the Research Quadrangle.
The Research Quadrangle focuses on the neurosciences, Hale said. TU’s role in the research and educational initiatives is through its Institute of Bioinformatics and Computational Biology.
“TU recognizes the strategic importance of this initiative,” Hale said. “It has invested substantial resources to grow the Institute and help ensure our successful participation.”
More than 10 grants from the National Institute of Health, totaling $3 million, have been awarded since 1999, McKee said. Once the facility is complete next June, the annual budget will be about $6 million per year, he said. The two-story facility, to be named the Laureate Institute for Brain Research, will house a $3 million magnetic image device.
The next-generation MRI, called a 3 Tesla, or 3T MRI, is twice as strong as most conventional MRI scanners. “Tesla” is a unit of measure for magnetic field strength. Three Tesla equals 30,000 times the earth’s magnetic field.
“The magnet will detect and outline pathways within the brain,” McKee said. “It will be able to pinpoint areas in the brain activated when a patient is stimulated.”
The 3T MRI strength increases the imaging resolution 16 times, so it is able to capture images with a level of detail and speed never before possible.
Eventually the group will purchase another functional MRI, or FMRI, “to take moving pictures of the brain,” said Mark Fox, associate dean for Community Health and Research Development at OU-Tulsa.
Laureate Laid the Foundation
Through work done by Laureate Psychiatric Clinic and Hospital, the Quadrangle is examining eating disorders and looking to explore learning disorders, substance abuse, bi-polar disorders, obesity and type II diabetes. Also, research is examining how behavior plays a significant role in early childhood disorders.
Laureate is where the research began nine years ago, McKee said.
“It all started with Laureate,” he said.
Stephen Prescott, president of the Oklahoma Mental Research Foundation, agreed.
“The greatest progress has come from the effort of the scientists at Laureate.”
Mental illness is a problem in Tulsa and the surrounding area, Hale said.
Although, northeast Oklahoma is no different than any other part of the U.S., said McKee.
“Also, I think that those affected are underserved,” Hale said.
Laureate, 6655 S. Yale Ave., has thousands of visits and admissions every year, averaging 85,000 out-patient visits and 3,000 admissions. In addition, there are 600 crisis assessments per month, McKee said. A “crisis” is where medical personnel have to make immediate decisions about a patient who is unable to function — whether to medicate or admit people to keep them from harming themselves or others.
There is a prevalence of mental illness in Tulsa, said Fox.
The research will allow a spectrum of mental illness to be studied, Fox said.
“We recognize the emphasis placed on early children education and experiences,” he said. “We can study the adverse health outcomes into adult life.”
Changing the social, environmental, behavioral and parental aspects of early childhood can have an impact on health outcomes, Fox said.
Similar research is ongoing across the nation, McKee said, but, with the brain and behavioral disorders being such broad areas, there is always room for additional studies.
“We are not breaking new ground,” Prescott said. “Others may have plowed it before, but they have plowed it differently.”
Two things distinguish this study in Tulsa from others, Prescott said.
“Today the technology to examine DNA is cheaper and better. Second, we can look at millions of spots across the DNA to sort out behaviors,” he said.
Advancement in DNA testing technology has been almost as stunning as the decline in costs to test. Just in the last five to 10 years, the cost was astronomical.
“The costs have come down 100-fold from 10 years ago,” Prescott said.
OMRF will focus on genetics and pairing genes with traits, Prescott said.
The problem is ensuring the diagnosis is accurate. Patients who might be bi-polar or have severe depression might display different types of the disorder. Like comparing someone with different shades of eye color, each disorder can be controlled by different genes.
“You have to make sure you have patients with the same disorder,” he said. “We have to always be sure that we are comparing the same disorder to the same disorder.”
Behaviors are complicated.
“If the type of disorder is not of the same group, your genetic type will not work,” he said.
Studies like this create new ways for diagnosis, Prescott said.
Trying to describe types of bi-polar disorders, for example, requires tremendous expertise, he said.
“If we had a DNA pattern that said, ‘Type 1,’ or Type 6,’ then you have an accurate, quick and inexpensive test for the diagnosis. That is what enables better treatments.”
“We will do the DNA sequences and attempt to identify the genes that go with these disorders,” he said.
Laureate has created a powerful database since 1999, using the information gathered from the thousands of medical histories, Prescott said.
The sophisticated MRI technology will allow researchers to look directly at brain function with the goal to pinpoint whether behaviors and traits are genetic or environmental, he said.
The history of medicine is full of advances in treatment that always depend on advances in diagnosis, Prescott said.
The level of collaboration among the institutions is high.
“The harmony between the four institutions is incredible,” Hale said. “Everyone has dropped their turf issues because the problems are so large and the stakes are that high.”
Also, the array of talent that is being recruited and appears to be coming to Oklahoma to join the effort is staggering, Hale said.
“It may be too early to name names, but I am very impressed with what is happening in that regard,” he said.
TU will host a series of symposiums on the research this fall. ?

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