Youth-GEMs Project

The overarching aims of Youth-GEMs are 1) to advance the molecular and neurobiological understanding of the interplay between genetic, epigenetic, and environmental factors in driving or preventing the transition from mental health to mental illness in young people, and 2) to provide youth and health professionals evidence-based tools and instruments for robust assessment of mental ill-health and for prediction of mental health trajectories.

A major scientific contribution of Youth-GEMs is the delivery of a deeper mechanistic understanding through its molecular and neurobiological investigations of mental ill-health trajectories from a developmental perspective. By integrating data from molecular, genetic, epigenetic, epidemiological, and clinical studies, Youth-GEMs will be able to establish direct links between dynamic, environmentally-shaped biological processes taking place during key periods of neurodevelopment and expression of mental ill-health. Youth-GEMs will advance the field by delivering neurobiology-informed (epi)genomic instruments specific to developmental stage, cell-type, and stress-response and identify molecular targets. This will result in a deep understanding of functional genomics of the developing human brain. Consequently, this will lay the groundwork to establish an adaptive and
continuously evolving process with an aspirational goal of achieving more precise and etiopathology-driven taxonomy of mental illnesses that would feed useful information into more personalized psychiatry.

Another unique aspect of the project is the investigation of genetic and environment factors (and their interactions) in long-term individual/personalized trajectories of mental health using translational epidemiology and advanced statistics. The use of deeply phenotyped general population-based cohorts from age 10 to 24 and the generation of the first longitudinal study of trans-syndromal help-seeking young people between ages 12 and 24 will provide robust findings needed to advance the field. It will also provide evidence-based prediction tools and will aid in eliminating the artificial barrier between in child/adolescent and adult psychiatry services.

Youth-GEMs’ pathbreaking approach differs from several other “transdiagnostic” approaches, which can be considered as (mere) update of traditional disease-centered approaches, as they focus on processes that might be relevant to more than one diagnosis while still preserving symptom-based diagnoses in every phase of research (e.g., study population selection, risk group definition, prognostication).
Youth-GEMs adopts a thorough “trans-syndromal” approach, addressing the continuum of mental phenotypes (expressed across the population, and dynamic in time) and underlying neurobiology, and therefore provides a much better alternative to the “transdiagnostic” approach.

The research organizations involved are:

  • Dept. of Psychiatry and Neuropsychology, School for Mental Health and Neuroscience (MHeNs), Maastricht University, Maastricht, The Netherlands (Prof. Bart Rutten / Assoc. Prof. Sinan Gülöksüz)
  • Dept. of Psychiatry, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI), Dublin, Ireland (Prof. Mary Cannon)
  • Dept. of Translational Research in Psychiatry, Max-Planck-Gesellschaft zur Forderung der Wissenschaften EV (MPG), Munchen, Germany (Prof. Elisabeth Binder)
  • College of Medicine and Health, University of Exeter, Exeter, UK (Prof. Jonathan Mill)
  • Dept. Psychiatry, Universitair Medisch Centrum Utrecht (UMC Utrecht), The Netherlands (Prof. Jim van Os)
  • Euro Youth Mental Health (Nick Morgan)
  • Dept. Mathematics and Informatics, Universitat de Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain (Prof. Karim Lekadir)
  • Psychosis, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology, and Neuroscience, King's College London (KCL), UK (Prof. Robin Murray)
  • MRC Centre for Psychiatric Genetics and Genomics, Cardiff University, Cardiff, UK (Prof. Michael O’Donovan)
  • Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences, University of Edinburgh, UK (Prof Ian Kelleher)
  • Research Centre for Social Innovation, Stichting Hogeschool Utrecht, Utrecht, The Netherlands (Dr. Simona Karbouniaris)
  • European Genome-phenome Archive, Fundacio Centre de Regulacio Genomica, Barcelona, Spain (Prof. Jordi Rambla de Argila)
  • Institute of Chemistry, University of Tartu, Tartu, Estonia (Prof. Jaanus Harro) 
  • Clinic for Neurology and Psychiatry for Children and Youth, Belgrade, Serbia (Assoc. Prof. Dejan Stevanovic)
  • R&D Dept, Ab.Acus, Milano, Italy (Dr. Maria Bulgheroni)
  • Psychiatry/Psychiatric Clinic - Medical School, University of Split, Split, Croatia (Assoc. Prof. Tomislav Franić)
  • Institute of Psychiatry and Mental Health (HGUGM, iSGM), Fundacion para la Investigacion Biomedica del Hospital Gregorio Maranon, Madrid, Spain (Dr. Covadonga Martinez Diaz- Caneja)
  • UCL Centre for Longitudinal Studies, University College London, London, UK (Prof. George Ploubidis)
  • Child Health Research Centre, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia (Prof. Christel Middeldorp)

The project is funded by the Horizon Europe programme Staying Healthy 2021 under Grant Agreement N˚ 101057182.

For Youth-GEMs members the intranet environment is available: VRE

Youth Gems banner