£1m grant for data science mental health research

A team at Cardiff University, led by Professor Jeremy Hall, has been awarded a £1m grant to harness the power of data science to improve early interventions and treatment in mental health.

In recent years major progress has been made in understanding the genetic basis of many psychiatric disorders, and a substantial part of this has been due to large scale data sharing. These advances offer great opportunities for improving stratification and treatment responses in mental disorders.

Cardiff University reports Professor Jeremy Hall, Director of their Neuroscience and Mental Health Research Institute, said “In order to capitalise on this progress there is now a need to extend this large-scale data driven approach forward by integrating genetic information with clinical, environmental, developmental and biological data at scale in mental health to transform the management of psychiatric disorders. Our mission is to build a platform that will enable the extension of collaborative efforts required for fundamental progress in psychiatric disorders.”

The new project aims to take several approaches, firstly taking more than fifteen thousand biological samples donated to Cardiff University’s MRC Centre for Neuropsychiatric Genetics and Genomics and the National Centre for Mental Health and linking them to electronic health records.

In addition to the patient cohorts, the project will develop a school based adolescent cohort for identifying the antecedents of early onset psychiatric disorder. Many disorders have their origin in childhood, with early adolescence being a period of increased vulnerability. An estimated one in five adolescents have a diagnosable mental health disorder with only a minority of young people presenting themselves to health services. This research platform will enable Cardiff University to track the mental health of young people as they grow up, and to identify risk and protective factors at an early stage. This will have a significant impact on mental health promotion in schools, and enable development, implementation and evaluation of early, universal preventative mental health interventions.

Dr James Walters, one of the grant’s co-applicants, said “We plan to harness the wealth of information held by the NHS in linking research participants’ genetic and interview data with their health records in a secure and anonymised way. In doing so we will gain insights into the effects of genetic and other risk factors which will help us understand the nature of mental health conditions and ultimately lead to improved diagnoses and treatments.”

Cardiff University Pro Vice-Chancellor, Professor Gary Baxter, said “Mental health issues place an enormous burden on individuals and society. This project has the potential to build upon our fundamental understanding of mental health disorders, driven in particular through the work of the MRC Centre for Neuropsychiatric Genetics and Genomics and the Neuroscience and Mental Health Research Institute. The framework will allow us to respond to emerging opportunities, bring together complimenting physical and mental health disciplines and work towards transformative societal impact.”

The project is being funded by the Medical Research Council as part of the UK Government’s National Productivity Investment Fund (NPIF).

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