Abstracts of the Presentations

5:30-6:30 Dr. Thomas Schulze: Updates in Genetics on Mental Health

Psychiatric genetics has made tremendous progress over the last two decades. Large-scale collaborative efforts and major developments in molecular biological technologies, in particular genome-wide association studies (GWAS) have helped identify well over a hundred vulnerability genes for schizophrenia at genome-wide and thus robust levels of significance. With an ever increasing sample size for GWAS in bipolar disorder or major depression totaling several tens of thousands of patients and control individuals, the number of identified risk genes for these disorders is expected to rise as well. The polygenic background susceptibility identified by GWAS is complemented by studies interrogating rare genetic variation such as copy number variants (CNVs) or by whole genome sequencing approaches. Large consortia on pharmacogenetics or imaging genetics are adding to our knowledge of the genetic architecture of psychiatric illness. Biobanking initiatives are paving the way for powerful in-depth biological studies going well beyond genetics and applying multi-omic approaches Notwithstanding these scientific successes, the challenges facing the psychiatric genetic community are manifold: Can findings readily be translated from bench to bedside? How to communicate them to physicians, patients, their relatives, and the general public? What are the ethical, legal, and societal implications of genomic research? In my presentation, I will briefly introduce the methodology of complex genetics and give an update on the scientific developments in psychiatric genetics. I will discuss how advances in this exciting and ever evolving field will be critically dependent on a truly collaborative spirit, ex exemplified by “friendly data sharing”. 


6:45 – 7:15 Dr. Rose-Mary Boustany: Autism in Lebanon: 2019 and beyond

 Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) manifest poor verbal/social communication/restricted interests/ sensory sensitivities. 90% of ASD children are in school/1% reach high school/50% graduate and 12% of ASD adults work.  Autism imposes a toll on families/society.  ASD children, if in nurseries-schools and with early intervention, do well.  ASD prevalence for Lebanon is 1:68 with slight increase in males (4M:1F in the West). Genetic analysis uncovered copy number variations and WES yielded novel genes.  Prenatal/perinatal factors/male gender/late order birth/consanguinity and psychiatric family history increased risk for ASD.  Brain white matter is disrupted (MRI/DTI).  Early intervention improves outcomes AND white matter microstructure (speech/ABA/occupational/psychomotor therapies) when brain/neuronal synapses are at their most FUNCTIONALLY plastic.   


7:15 – 7:30 Dr. Michael Pluess: Biological Pathways of Risk and Resilience in Syrian Refugee Children in Lebanon: An Introduction

Every year millions of children are faced with the severe consequences associated with war and political conflict. Although it is well established that children exposed to war are at increased risk for the development of mental health problems, some children show remarkable psychological resilience. The BIOPATH study investigates the biological underpinnings of individual differences in refugee children’s response to acute war-related trauma exposure. Applying a modern multilevel perspective, the study explores the intricate interplay between psychosocial, neuroendocrine, epigenetic, and genetic factors in the prediction of risk and resilience related to the experience of war in 1,600 Syrian refugee children based in Lebanon across two waves of data collection.


7:30 - 7:45 Dr. Elie Karam: GENMOD LEBANON (Genetic Moderation of War Trauma and Psychological Intervention in Syrian and Lebanese Children)

War and Childhood Adversities have been associated with mental disorders in children and adolescents. We conducted a school-based resilience-building intervention on Lebanese and Syrian students attending 31 public schools in Lebanon using the teachers as agents of change. The intervention was successful for lowering rates of internalizing and externalizing disorders. Saliva samples were collected from 989 of these students. The interplay between Environmental Sensitivity, Personal Competence, childhood adversities and the intervention is being explored. We aim at understanding the role of the genetic factors in predisposing children to having mental disorders and to responding to interventions (polygenic scores, methylation, gene representation, etc…). 



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