Launched in 2014 and still evolving, the Working Group for Imaging and Genetics in Neuroscience (IMAGINE) at Stellenbosch University is a unique convergence of clinical, genomic, statistical and bioinformatics expertise aiming to tackle the challenges posed by neuropsychiatric disorders in South Africa. Neuropsychiatric disorders (NPDs) are best understood as disorders of brain structure and function with wide-ranging neural abnormalities that implicate domains of behaviour, motor function, cognition, and emotion. These disorders are often of long duration, have a slow progression and are contributed to by complex gene-environment interactions and epigenetic phenomena that intervene across the lifespan.
Drawing from its multi-disciplinary membership, IMAGINE plans to investigate NPDs using multiple units of analysis, from genes to neural circuits to behaviours. In short, we aim to answer cross-cutting, translational neuroscience questions relevant to reducing the burden of these disorders in South Africa, using a toolkit comprising innovative multi-'omics' (e.g. genomics, transcriptomics, epigenomics, pharmacogenomics, bioinformatics, proteomics, metabolomics, microbiomics) and multi-modal brain imaging technologies (e.g. functional and structural magnetic resonance imaging, spectroscopy, diffusion tensor imaging).
Our specific aims are to:
- apply genomic and imaging technologies together with a range of computational and statistical methods to provide more precise molecular signatures and characterisation of NPDs that will aid in guiding and tailoring their clinical management
- establish a biorepository comprising a wide range of biological samples (e.g. DNA, RNA, skin, hair) for neuroscience research
- develop induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) disease models of NPDs in order to develop a more fine-grained understanding of the development of dysregulated pathways resulting in psycho- and neuro-pathology.
- use our expertise and critical mass to train and foster the development of a core cadre of clinicians and basic neuroscientists versed in genomic, other 'omic', and neuroimaging techniques
- develop into a national and regional hub for the identification, facilitation and coordination of cross-cutting research priorities traversing basic science and clinical/therapeutic application in neuroscience