Laboratory of Molecular Neuropsychiatry
Sang Ki Park (Life Sciences)
Amid the rapid spread of COVID-19, the international journal, The Lancet (October,2021), published research findings indicating an 28% worldwide increase in cases of depressive disorders. COVID-19 aside, it was estimated, that nearly 200 million of such cases may have occurred anyway. In fact, it is conservative to estimate that depression and similar psychiatric disorders affect a full quarter of the global population. What’s more is that cases of clinical depression and/or schizophrenia adversely affect the economics of an otherwise thriving society, including loss of labor.
In terms of genetic origin or molecular biological doctrines, the research on mental illness lags far behind that of other diseases. If we could discover and control genes or proteins that trigger depression and other mental illnesses, they could be treated with the simple “flip” of a switch. The Molecular Neuro-PSYchiatry Lab (MNPSY), headed by Professor Sang Ki Park at the Department of Life Sciences, POSTECH, delves into molecular psychiatry to shed light on mental disorders by employing the techniques of molecular biology and neurobiology to uncover the fundamental root within the body that causes mental illnesses.
Ever since the Human Genome Project was completed in 2003 and all the genes of the human genome were mapped, the genetics behind mental illnesses has been systematically disclosed by isolating genetic defects and analyzing how they result in these disorders. Approximately 100 new genes have been recently discovered to cause schizophrenia.
The Lab is particularly interested in the Disrupted-in-schizophrenia 1 (DISC1) gene which was found in the genetic studies of a large Scottish family which experienced a high prevalence of this mental disorder. A defect in this gene signifies a high probability for schizophrenia. Researchers at the Lab discovered that this gene is involved in communication within nerve cells and regulates our response to various external stressors. If we can control this gene, we could discover an alternate method to prevent external stimuli from triggering schizophrenia.
The MNPSY Lab has established a research system spanning the study of genes and the analyses of nerve cells to experimenting on animal tissue and their behavior. Such a system aids in the exploration of the multi-faceted pathogenesis of mental disorders – from the molecular to the behavioral levels. Researchers plan to build on the principles of the mental disorders discovered thus far to identify factors that could control mental illnesses. “We have been primarily researching to understand the mechanism of pathogenesis itself”, Professor Park noted. He also added, “Our focus will be to search for methodologies to control the ‘switch’ while continuously expanding our current research on molecular mechanisms”.
Head of Lab
Life Science Building 118