In the labs, offices and patient rooms across the Institute of Living campus in Hartford, researchers perform cutting-edge work every day to help improve diagnosis and treatment of mental illness.

Three main hubs of research on the campus — the Olin Neuropsychiatry Research Center, Anxiety Disorders Center and Clinical Trials Unit — work with government, industry and private foundation funding totaling about $80.6 million since 2007.

Major research focuses at the IOL include:

  • Psychosis, including schizophrenia and bipolar disorders.
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
  • Marijuana and driving.
  • Alcoholism.
  • Anxiety disorders.
  • Autism spectrum.
  • Depression.
  • Obesity.
  • Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Compulsive hoarding and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).
  • Substance abuse.
  • Clinical trials of new medications.

In Olin alone, there are six distinct research labs headed by individual investigators and their teams, many of whom tap the advanced technology on campus to test their hypotheses.

Available technology includes structural and functional MRIs, diffusion tensor imaging and spectroscopy, plus fully-equipped electrophysiology and transcutaneous magnetic stimulation labs and a DNA repository, said Dr. Godfrey Pearlson, director of the Olin Center.

“What distinguishes us is the fact that we’re studying the neurobiology of serious mental illness, from the point of view of electrophysiology, functional and structural brain measurements and genetics, and combining those with epidemiology to try and translate those discoveries into new treatments,” he explained.

Recent discoveries by IOL researchers include:

  • Biologic measures to classify psychotic illnesses into novel categories to connect patients with specific treatments.
  • Intranasal ketamine to reverse treatment-resistant depression and suicidal thoughts.
  • Distinct biological subtypes of ADHD.
  • Use of brain response to alcohol cues in 18-year-olds to predict future dysfunctional drinking.
  • Connection between heavy alcohol use in 18-year-olds over two years with brain hippocampal shrinkage, lower academic grades and lower memory scores.
  • Identification of hoarding as a distinct disorder, not a variant of OCD.
  • Biological overlap in the brain between Autism Spectrum Disorder and schizophrenia.
  • Ability to predict 60 percent of 12-month bariatric surgical weight loss by examining pre-surgical brain patterns.

“We focus on translating research directly into patient care,” Dr. Pearlson said. “We embed our research organizations into our clinical programs, so the people delivering care are getting the information, learning about the developments as they’re happening.”