Mental illness accounts for over 15 percent of the burden of disease in the developed world, which is higher than all cancers combined.
“We’ve been fooling ourselves about how serious mental illness is and it deserves a lot of research,” says Dr. Simpson.
A combination of both genetic and environmental factors causes mental illness and the Simpson lab is focused on exploring the genetic side.
The lab was the first to find that the human gene (NR2E1) can correct violent behaviour in a mouse modeling pathological aggression. NR2E1 is involved in controlling stem cells in the brain, and the Simpson lab has found an association between the gene and bipolar disorder (manic-depressive psychosis), a mental illness which could potentially develop in childhood.
“By moving towards stem cell gene- based therapy for brain disorders we are opening a huge new therapeutic door,” explains Dr. Simpson.
Dr. Simpson also leads a large international project to build Mini- Promoters to drive gene expression in defined regions of the brain. This technology would enable gene therapy for brain disorders like multiple sclerosis, ADHD, severe depression, and juvenile forms of Huntington’s disease, that are inaccessible to traditional therapy approaches.