TTUHSC El Paso Researching Connection Between Immune System, Mental Health and Suicide
TTUHSC El Paso Researching Connection Between Immune System, Mental Health and Suicide

TTUHSC El Paso Researching Connection Between Immune System, Mental Health and Suicide

A new study by a Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center (TTUHSC) El Paso researcher could bring insight to the biological causes of severe depression in Hispanics — a population in which there is little research for an illness that often leads to devastating consequences.

Bharathi Gadad, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the TTUHSC El Paso Department of Psychiatry, was recently awarded a $42,000 grant to study the association of the immune system’s inflammatory response with depression and suicide among Hispanics.

The grant from the Edward N. and Margaret G. Marsh Foundation will be used by Dr. Gadad to analyze immune system biomarkers — measurements of molecules from biological fluids and tissues — of Hispanic men and women who committed suicide. The data will be compared with non-Hispanic suicide victims as well as people with no history of mental health problems. By better understanding the immune system processes that influence mental health, Dr. Gadad hopes her research will benefit Borderland residents who have depression and are at high risk for suicide.

The project’s timeliness is not lost on Dr. Gadad. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has increased demand for treatment for depression, anxiety and other mental health issues, according to the American Psychological Association.

“Poor mental health and suicide impacted a significant number of people during the COVID-19 pandemic in El Paso,” Dr. Gadad said. “The incidence of suicide is higher in men compared to women, although mental illness is more prevalent in women.”

Dr. Gadad has more than 20 years of research experience in biological psychiatry, particularly on immune system regulatory mechanisms. She has authored or co-authored 52 articles on these topics in highly reputed research journals, including the PNAS, Molecular Psychiatry, and Translational Psychiatry Journals.

Javier Vargas-Medrano, Ph.D., a senior research scientist at TTUHSC El Paso’s Southwest Brain Bank, will help Dr. Gadad conduct the research. Dr. Vargas has expertise in proteomics – the study of proteins – and inflammation in neuroscience and psychiatry.

The Edward N. and Margaret G. Marsh Foundation was established under the last will and testament of El Pasoan Edward Norton Marsh to provide funding for charitable, scientific, literary and educational purposes, with special attention to medical research. Mr. Marsh passed away on June 1, 1982. The Edward N. and Margaret G. Marsh Foundation primarily supports organizations that operate in El Paso for medical research.

TTUHSC El Paso is the only health sciences center on the U.S.-Mexico border and serves 108 counties in West Texas that have been historically underserved. Research conducted at the university focuses on conditions directly impacting Hispanic populations. University researchers also study disparities, helping to meet health care challenges through prevention programs and community education.

Mental health research at TTUHSC El Paso includes the Southwest Brain Bank. The brain bank is a research organization that collects, studies and distributes brain tissue to scientists who study the brain’s relationship to psychiatric illness.

In addition to research on mental illness, TTUHSC El Paso provides mental health services, including an addiction treatment clinic that opened this past summer and the Child Psychiatry Access Network (CPAN). The CPAN phone hotline helps primary care physicians with the diagnosis and treatment of child and adolescent patients with psychiatric symptoms.

TTUHSC El Paso’s CPAN region covers a 16-county area in West Texas that spans east to Winkler, Ward and Crockett Counties and south to Maverick County in the Eagle Pass area. The vast geographic area is estimated to have a population of approximately 200,000 children between the ages of 5 and 18.

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