Bookmark and Share

Bipolar & Schizophrenia Network on Intermediate Phenotypes (BSNIP)

Back to Research Studies 

Primary Investigator:

Dr. Gunvant Thaker, M.D.

What is the Bipolar and Schizophrenia Network on Intermediate Phenotypes (BSNIP)?

BSNIP is a consortium of university medical centers funded in 2007 by the National Institute of Health (NIH) to learn about the risks for schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder and bipolar disorder. These centers include:

  • Maryland Psychiatric Research Center at the University of Maryland /Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore MD)
  • University of Illinois at Chicago / University of Chicago (Chicago Il)
  • The Institute of Living (Hartford CT)/ Yale University (New Haven CT)
  • University of Texas Southwestern at Dallas (Dallas TX)
  • Wayne State University (Detroit MI)

What are the aims of the BSNIP research program?

Schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, and bipolar disorder can cause serious distress and disability, yet the causes of these forms of mental illness remain poorly understood. These illnesses can run in families, and so it is important to study both patients and their close family members to learn about the causes of these disorders.

The aims of the BSNIP research program are to:

  1. To discover how the risk for schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, and bipolar disorder can be transmitted in families.
  2. To identify traits, such as variation in cognitive abilities, brain structure, and brain function (intermediate phenotypes) that might be associated with the risk for these illnesses and the genes that underlie these traits.

The overall goal of this research program is to improve our understanding of the biological causes of schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, and bipolar disorder so that we can develop better treatments to improve and eventually restore the lives of patients who suffer with them.

What is schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a serious brain disorder that can affect the way a person thinks, acts, expresses emotions, perceives reality and relates to others. Hallucinations (hearing voices or seeing things that are not there), delusions (believing things that are not true) and confused thinking are some of the hallmark signs of schizophrenia. Schizoaffective disorder is similar to schizophrenia in terms of sharing these symptoms and also includes significant periods of disturbed mood (e.g., depression or mania).

What is bipolar disorder?

Bipolar disorder, or manic-depression, is a mood disorder characterized by the occurrence of manic symptoms (e.g., mental and physical hyperactivity, disorganization, and elevation of mood) that may or may not be accompanied by alternating periods of depressive symptoms (e.g., sadness, inactivity, difficulty in thinking and concentration).

What is an intermediate phenotype?

An intermediate phenotype is a biological trait that is related to genetic factors that increase risk for an illness but do not necessarily result in symptoms of the illness itself. In this sense, it represents an intermediate “step” in a pathway from genes associated with risk for an illness to the clinical signs and symptoms of the illness.

Because intermediate phenotypes occur in patients and in some of their relatives who do not have these illnesses, studying these traits in both patients and unaffected family members may help us understand the genetic and biological factors associated with risk for these illnesses. With a better understanding of the steps leading from specific genes to symptoms, we hope to be able to develop better treatments to improve the lives of patients who suffer with these illnesses.

Who is eligible to participate in the BSNIP study?

Because this program is interested in measuring risk for schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, and bipolar disorder, we want to locate and evaluate individuals diagnosed with one of these illnesses and their close relatives.

In order to participate in the BSNIP study, we need both:

  • A patient who has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, or bipolar disorder and is between 15 and 65 years of age.
  • At least one first-degree relative, i.e. a brother, sister, mother, father or child, also between 15 – 65 years of age, or more if possible, who may or may not have a history of mental health problems.

What procedures are involved in the BSNIP study?

To participate in the BSNIP study, individuals must be able to travel to the Maryland Psychiatric Research Center [transportation provided upon request] or the nearest BSNIP study site (if living outside of Maryland) for at least two visits, totaling about 12-15 hours. These visits can be scheduled at a time that is most convenient for individuals who are interested in participating.

Over the course of these visits the following will be completed by clinical professionals and trained members of our research program:

  • Clinical Interviews to gather background and personal history information.
  • Neuropsychological Tests to examine thinking abilities such as memory and problem solving.
  • Electroencephalography (EEG) to measure brain activity in response to sounds.
  • Eye Tracking Tests to measure eye movements and visual attention.
  • MRI to measure brain structures and function.
  • Blood Sample for DNA (genetic) studies All of these procedures are safe and non-invasive. There is no cost to participants.

How can I learn more about the BSNIP research program?

Please fill out research inquiries form or contact:

Lauren Catalano
Maryland Psychiatric Research Center
55 Wade Ave
Phone: 410-402-6388
Fax: 410-402-6023

Download the BSNIP study's pamphlet.