Epigenetics and the Mind Dr. Perrin, who spends four days a week with patients, the fifth in the lab. “So, there’s a lot of opportunity to make significant inroads into understanding mental illness and treating it better.” With child psychiatrist Dr. Evelyn Stewart, who runs the OCD clinic at BC Children’s Hospital and CFRI geneticist Dr. Michael Kobor, Dr. Perrin is exploring whether epigenetics--environment-related changes in gene expression which are heritable and reversible--may be a causal factor.
s a teenager walking to Lorne Park High School in Mississauga, Ontario in the late 1990s, Andrew Perrin already knew the direction he was going, he just didn’t know how long and interesting the journey would be. “From grade ten I knew I wanted to be a scientist,” says CFRI grantee Dr. Perrin, 36. “Then in my last year as an undergraduate student I realized I wanted to bridge two communities--clinical medicine and molecular research.”
The CFRI-funded pilot study will involve up to 4 pairs of identical twins, one of each of which has OCD. The researchers will do whole genome screening to identify epigenetic differences between the twins. OCD affects about one percent of Canadians, and 4-in-5 develop the debilitating psychiatric condition of obsessive thoughts and repetitive behaviours before the age of 18. Dr. Perrin says it’s a long road, but that if they can identify OCD-linked epigenetic differences they might be targets for drug therapy, or used as molecular marks to identify the response to a specific psychotherapy.
Now as a third year psychiatry resident at BC Children’s Hospital, he’s combining his passions to explore a molecular medicine frontier: the possible epigenetic basis of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).
Only one-percent of Canadian physicians are also researchers, and through his CFRI collaborations he says he’s found a place that nurtures this rare bench-to-bedside culture.
For his MD/PhD research at the University of Toronto, he studied cancer using a roundworm, but during oncology rounds he realized he was most interested in talking to patients about their experience of the disease.
“CFRI really supports the interface between clinical medicine and research, bringing together people of disparate backgrounds and talents to try and come-up with novel ideas on how to move forward on specific diseases,” Dr. Perrin says.
“Compared to cancer research, psychiatry is very much still in its infancy in terms of the molecular understanding of diseases and the brain,” says
Dr. Andrew Perrin is a Resident in the Department of Psychiatry at BC Children’s Hospital. He is currently supervised by Dr. Evelyn Stewart.
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