Developing better treatments for mental illness

A Cardiff University researcher is working to better understand the systems in the brain responsible for causing psychiatric disorders and has identified specific processes affected by genetic mutations in patients with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

By studying genetic data from thousands of patients, Dr Nick Clifton’s research pinpoints groups of proteins important for brain development, learning and memory that are central to the emergence of psychiatric disease. His insights represent an exciting step towards the design of novel therapeutics targeting such proteins and highlight ages at which therapies may be most effective.

Cardiff University reports Nick Clifton is a Changing Minds Fellow, working at Cardiff University’s Neuroscience and Mental Health Research Institute (NHMRI). Established in 2014, and in partnership with The Waterloo Foundation (TWF), the Changing Minds programme aims to support newly qualified post-doctoral researchers at Cardiff University in their first vital steps towards an independent research career.

Nick Clifton said “My position as a Waterloo Foundation Changing Minds Fellow has opened doors. It has allowed me to perform the research that is most important to me, in an environment where high quality mental health research thrives, with the independence that I need to progress my career. The opportunity to incorporate methodology from across scientific disciplines has led to an exciting project with discoveries which we hope will facilitate the design of new treatments for people suffering with psychiatric disorders.”

Since its launch in 2014, Changing Minds has supported eight Fellows, enabling them to develop their first independent projects at the end of their PhDs. And now, a further gift of £650,000 from The Waterloo Foundation is building on this work to launch the new Future Minds programme, a programme designed to recognise the range of major early career challenges that stifle creativity and innovation in new researchers.

Professor Jeremy Hall, Director of the University’s Neuroscience and Mental Health Research Institute, said “Recent advances in genetics and neuroscience have shown that many common psychiatric disorders have their origins in early brain development. A significant part of our research focuses on how genetic and environmental factors acting on brain development influence risk for mental health problems. Future Minds will support researchers like Dr Clifton by supporting them to develop their own unique research, providing enhanced skills training, connecting Fellows to the work of industrial and charitable partners, and offering extended mentorship, communications and leadership skills training for public engagement.”

Cardiff University Vice-Chancellor, Professor Colin Riordan, said “The Waterloo Foundation’s continued support for and partnership with Cardiff University is fantastic. This generous gift will enable us to embed talented young scientists in one of the world’s finest neuroscience and mental health research teams, so they can develop innovative approaches to debilitating mental health conditions and diseases.”

Founder and Chair of The Waterloo Foundation, Professor Heather Stevens, said “We are very proud of the successful and extremely valuable partnership we have developed with the NMHRI. We believe that the Future Minds programme will further build and enhance our partnership by supporting key young research leaders, who are taking forward the challenge of research into neurodevelopmental disorders and mental health more broadly. These are the researchers who will be best placed to make exciting discoveries, gain better understanding, and develop new treatments and therapies to help children and adults who live with these challenging conditions. TWF is immensely pleased to be part of this partnership.”

Future Minds will start in October 2018 and run for six academic years, until September 2024. Each Fellowship will last for two years. Fellow 1 will be appointed to start in October 2018, with Fellow 2 appointed the next year and so on, giving overlap until the final year.

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