The Youth-GEMs project studies the genetic & environmental factors influencing mental health of young people between 12-26 years. Together with colleagues from a broad international consortium we use clinical studies, dive into different data cohorts, explore epigenetics research and develop artificial intelligence and e-health tools. The project is divided into different subtasks called work packages, led by designated project partners.
On the 10th and 11th of October the Youth-GEMs team joined forces during the annual research meeting at PRBB Biomedical Research Park in Barcelona. Two days filled with updates, next steps, discussions and inspiration from the various work packages. As we finished year 1 of the project we see that necessary preparations on data-management, defining useful cohorts and the first steps in developing clinical and e-health tools took place. We are really looking forward to the next year resulting in first ideas for publications, questionnaires and hopefully interesting preliminary findings.
The participation of Young Experts in Youth-GEMs is key. Via so-called Science Cafe’s our researchers can discuss or explain their approach in this project. During the consortium meeting Young Experts were present to ask questions, enrich discussions and realise service user involvement.
“I’ve been part of the Youth-GEMs project since the kick-off meeting in Brussels last year. It’s incredible to think that such a big and experienced group of researchers and medical professionals is interested in what young people have to say. You can really feel the connection between people who are passionate about mental health and are using resources as a group with the ultimate goal of bettering the mental health area experience of young people in the near future. I felt welcomed and listened to.” Inês (23 years old), member of Euro Youth Mental Health.
Brief update about the 9th Science Café (August 21):
PhD researcher Winni Schalkwijk, who was invited to a previous Science Café, came back to recap some of the fundamentals of her work. Not only do our genes determine our mental health, also the environment and adaptive mechanisms (epigenetics) play an important role. A genome-wide association study (GWAS) is a research approach used to identify genomic variants that are statistically associated with a risk for a disease or a particular trait. In addition, Winni’s research also takes into account the exposome: the exposures (such as chronic stress) of an individual in a lifetime and how these relate to health. These all add to the outcomes and can accelerate or diminish our biological and epigenetic age. Winni looks into longitudinal data, from different international cohorts, and is aiming to gather scores to calculate genetic risk in relation to environmental factors.
Mariël Kanne visited our café in June and she came back with a recap as well about addressing ethical questions. People involved in the Youth-GEMs studies come from different cultures and have different values, experiences, knowledge, languages and have different gene-environment interactions. However, we have to be aware of the fact that all persons are (at the same time) different AND equal. We want to work in an ethical responsible manner. Oftentimes we learn more from questions than from answers. That’s why the input of young experts is key.
When young people are well-informed and have an understanding of the whole, they can feel empowered to make decisions. The conversation about genes for example underlines the importance of sharing knowledge and open access from an ethical perspective. It’s empowering! Involvement is vital, as well as accessibility of information. The list of important values mentioned by the young experts from Euro Youth Mental Health is growing.
Find out more about Youth-GEMs here.