Text: William Türler
Photo: Éric Déroze

Tandem Pascal Steullet-Philipp Baumann

Psychiatrist Philipp Baumann (right) and neurobiologist Pascal Steullet (left) work together to research cerebral abnormalities associated with schizophrenia.

Psychiatry is a complex branch of medicine in which partnerships with clinicians and neurobiologists are essential. Philipp Baumann, a practising psychiatrist and research clinician, works with Pascal Steullet, a neurobiologist and research director, as part of the research programme established between the General Psychiatry Service (PGE) and the Psychiatric Neurosciences Centre at CHUV.

“We are working on an interdisciplinary project to better understand the role of the thalamus [editor’s note: an anatomical structure within the brain] in schizophrenia,” says Philipp Baumann.

“Our approach involves close collaboration between clinical and fundamental research. Abnormalities observed in patients can be reproduced in mice models in order to study the pathological mechanisms involved, and research using animal models can also help guide our hypotheses when it comes to patient testing."

Recent results from the studies conducted by Pascal Steullet and his fellow researchers indicate that a key region in the thalamus (thalamic reticular nucleus) is very vulnerable to oxidative stress, or cell damage caused by oxidising molecules, and might be affected in patients suffering from schizophrenia. The goal is to use imaging technology to identify potential abnormalities in the thalamus in a cohort of young patients who are developing a psychotic disorder.

“Over time, this research will reveal abnormalities that could be used to identify the various stages of the disease and predict how it will evolve,” says neurobiologist Pascal Steullet.

Philipp Baumann, who also directs the TIPP (Treatment and intervention in the early stages of a psychotic disorder) programme, helps treat young patients dealing with a psychotic condition. “My role is to provide the project with clinical expertise and identify the important questions we need to ask to improve treatment and patient care. I also coordinate the neural imaging part of the project in collaboration with the CHUV medical imaging analysis laboratory (MIAL) in order to study the thalamus of any young patient who presents with a first psychotic episode.”

Pascal Steullet uses his expertise as a neurobiologist to support the clinical research portion of the project. “We will pursue our research to improve our knowledge of abnormalities in the thalamus caused by oxidative stress and of the molecular mechanisms involved in the process. The results from this research will help us refine and pinpoint our investigations with patients.” ⁄