Fighting mental illness with Open Science

The Douglas Research Centre will share its research data to accelerate the pace of treatment development 

Over 10 per cent of the world population, or approximately 792 million people, lives with a mental disorder, according to a 2017 estimate. The ongoing pandemic is expected to have a tremendous, long-lasting impact on the mental health of populations. The need for effective treatments is real, yet progress has been slow in many areas.  

To speed up progress in the field, the Douglas Research Centre (DRC), which is affiliated with the Montreal West Island Integrated University Health and Social Services Centre (MWI-IUHSSC), has made a commitment to Open Science–the sharing of research data with scientists around the world.  

Inspired by The Neuro’s commitment on Open Science, the DRC will publicly release research findings, following FAIR principles (findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable), and facilitate the use of data for educational, health, and societal impact, all while minimizing the use of restrictive intellectual property protection on research outputs.  

In 2020, The Douglas received $100,000 from the Tanenbaum Open Science Institute (TOSI) at The Neuro to design Open Science principles at the institutional level. Now, it’s committed to an Open Science policy organized into five guiding principles aiming to broadly share research outputs, maximize societal impact, and empower research participants and service users.  

The Douglas Research Centre's 5 Open Science Principles

A challenging opportunity 

As a mental health research centre, the DRC aims to pioneer Open Science practices in a challenging area for patient privacy. Mental illness creates unique emotional, social, and cognitive vulnerabilities. Open Science policies must be designed to benefit the research community while respecting the needs of patients and research participants. Overcoming these challenges will create a model for other mental health institutions when implementing Open Science practices.  

Being part of the MWI-IUHSSC, which covers a large Montreal territory offers the possibility of participation from patients at multiple levels of care, and opportunities for collaboration spanning an array of disciplines. 

"Implementing Open Science in mental health research certainly brings challenges, the obvious one being safeguarding the confidentiality of our research participants and service users,” says Prof. Sylvia Villeneuve, a DRC researcher and Canada Research Chair in early detection of Alzheimer's disease. “We learned many lessons through openly sharing the PREVENT-AD dataset, a longitudinal cohort of pre-symptomatic Alzheimer’s disease participants that is now findable through the unified interface of the Canadian Open Neuroscience Platform. We found a balance between implementing appropriate safeguards and being as open as possible. Participants are eager to be part of Open Science studies.”  

"As the first Canadian mental health research organization to adopt Open Science at the institutional level, we are leading a transformation in our field,” says Dr. Gustavo Turecki, the DRC’s scientific director and Chair of the Department of Psychiatry at McGill University. “Many of the Douglas' research programs have Open Science principles at their core, spanning from extensively sharing brain tissue samples to our far-reaching knowledge translation activities. We expect to show that Open Science in mental health is not only feasible, but most importantly that it enables solid and rapid scientific advances in a research environment integrated to clinical practice."