Dr. Godfrey Pearlson discusses how psychiatric conditions are defined

The Department of Psychology is pleased to host Dr. Godfrey Pearlson, MA, MBBS, at 12 p.m. on March 27 in the Clark Building room A 207. Dr. Pearlson’s upcoming talk, “Using Biological Measures to Reclassify Psychosis,” will discuss some of the problems with using traditional diagnostic schemes in psychiatry to define psychiatric conditions as well as some possible solutions for this dilemma. This event is free and open to the public.

A “fingerprint” for each condition

Diagnostic schemes such as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) and the International Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD) traditionally define conditions such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder based on “cross-sectional symptoms and longitudinal course, a tradition that dates from the 1890s and has not been significantly updated,” Dr. Pearlson writes. “Unfortunately, these conditions overlap on multiple levels, including at the level of symptoms, co-occurrence within families, risk genes and response to treatment.”

Dr. Pearlson is a professor of psychiatry and neuroscience at Yale University and the founding director of the 50-person Olin Neuropsychiatry Research Center, which specializes in the translational neuroscience of mental illness. Conditions studied at the center include dementias, mood disorders, substance abuse, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Dr. Pearlson’s research includes using neuroimaging to address questions concerning the neurobiology of these disorders. His lab is part of the Bipolar-Schizophrenia Network on Intermediate Phenotypes (BSNIP) consortium and has contributed to conceptualizing mental illness based on biological criteria.

“The BSNIP project asked two big questions,” Dr. Pearlson writes. “Would biological measures such as those derived from structural or functional MRI, cognitive tests, electrophysiology, genotyping & oculomotor physiology provide a firmer basis for classifying these illnesses from each other, by deriving a distinct biological “fingerprint” that corresponded to each condition? And what would happen if we used these biologic measures irrespective of classic clinical psychiatric diagnosis, to try and create homogeneous disease entities from the bottom up?”

Developing tolerant perspectives

Dr. Pearlson holds a medical degree from Newcastle University in the UK and an MA in philosophy from Columbia University. He has published over 700 peer-reviewed articles and received many prestigious awards, including the 2015 Stanley Dean Award for Schizophrenia Research from the American College of Psychiatrists. He is also the co-founder of the annual BrainDance competition, which provides competitive awards to high school and college students for researching psychiatric conditions and developing tolerant perspectives towards others with psychiatric problems.

UPDATE: the event will be hosted at 12 p.m. in the Clark Building room A207.