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New landmark for mental health research at Cardiff

01 July 2009

The fight against mental and degenerative brain diseases has been boosted by a multi-million pound investment in Cardiff University’s world-leading neuropsychiatric research.

The Medical Research Council (MRC) has approved the establishment of the Centre for Neuropsychiatric Genetics and Genomics at the University - the first MRC Centre in Wales and the first aimed specifically at harnessing the genetics revolution for research in mental disorders. It is also supported by funding from the Welsh Assembly Government’s Wales Office of Research and Development (WORD) and the University itself, totalling more than £4 million.

The Centre will tackle mental illnesses like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, degenerative brain diseases like Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s and Parkinson’s, and developmental disorders like dyslexia and childhood depression. Its main aims are:

• Using genetics to improve understanding of the major disorders of the brain, building on the existing world-leading research expertise at Cardiff University

• Training a new generation of scientists who can put this knowledge into practice with patients

• A series of public events to break down misunderstandings about mental disease and genetic science

• Creating a new professorship in translating our genetic knowledge into practical treatments.

The Centre opened in April under the directorship of Professor Mike Owen of Cardiff University’s School of Medicine. It is being officially launched today, 2 July, 2009 by First Minister for Wales, Rhodri Morgan.

Professor Owen said: "Over the next five years, we want to use technological advances to identify new genes which put people at risk of brain disorders. We then want to work out exactly how these genes affect the operation of the brain and, ultimately, start building treatments which can tackle some of these terrible diseases."

He added: "We see the public engagement work as central to our mission. Our research projects need a large amount of data from a large number of volunteers and public support is vital. However, a great many myths and taboos still surround both mental illness and genetics. We aim to break down these barriers and bring the results of our research closer to the public."

Declan Mulkeen, Director of Research and Training at the Medical Research Council said: "We are delighted to be opening this new MRC centre in Wales, in partnership with Cardiff University and the Wales Office of Research and Development, which will provide exciting new opportunities for future translational research based upon world class expertise in neuropsychiatric genetics. This investment is a key element in MRC’s research strategy in neurodegeneration and mental health."

The First Minister said: "This is the first MRC Research Centre in Wales. Mental illnesses are such a high priority that the prospect of using the latest genetic research to improve the long-term chances of finding cures has to be worthy of public investment and public support.

"I know that Professor Owen has a huge reputation in the field and that is why the Medical Research Council is backing this centre and so are we through our WORD grant. I wish the research team every success."

The MRC Centre for Neuropsychiatric Genetics and Genomics

The Centre opened on April 1, and includes academics from Cardiff University’s Schools of Medicine, Psychology, Biosciences, Computer Science and Social Sciences.

It will receive £2million from the MRC over five years to

1. Develop collaborations to research ways of tackling risk genes for brain diseases

2. Establish a four year PhD programme, offering two new postgraduate studentships every year

3. Deliver an innovative public engagement and communications strategy to bring results of research closer to patients and doctors

4. Establish a new senior post in Bioinformatics to assist in data management

The Centre has also received £277,000 from WORD to enhance the training of clinical academics and for the public engagement programme. The School of Medicine has provided £1million for administration, laboratory services and biostatistics. Cardiff University has provided £1million from its strategic fund to support the creation of the new professorial post.

Cardiff University

Cardiff University is recognised in independent government assessments as one of Britain’s leading teaching and research universities and is a member of the Russell Group of the UK’s most research intensive universities. Among its academic staff are two Nobel Laureates, including the winner of the 2007 Nobel Prize for Medicine, Professor Sir Martin Evans.

Founded by Royal Charter in 1883, today the University combines impressive modern facilities and a dynamic approach to teaching and research. The University’s breadth of expertise in research and research-led teaching encompasses: the humanities; the natural, physical, health, life and social sciences; engineering and technology; preparation for a wide range of professions; and a longstanding commitment to lifelong learning. In the recent independent UK Research Assessment Exercise, almost 60 per cent of University research was assessed as either world-leading or internationally excellent. In Neuroscience, Psychiatry and Psychology, 80 per cent was either world-leading or internationally excellent, placing Cardiff joint first in the UK in this field.

Visit the University website at:

The Medical Research Council

The Medical Research Council is dedicated to improving human health through excellent science. It invests on behalf of the UK taxpayer. The results have led to some of the most significant discoveries in medical science and benefited the health and wealth of millions of people in the UK and around the world. The MRC's work ranges from molecular level science to public health research, carried out in universities, hospitals and a network of its own units and institutes. The MRC liaises with the Health Departments, the National Health Service and industry to take account of the public's needs.

Wales Office of Research and Development for Health and Social Care (WORD)

The Wales Office of Research and Development for Health and Social Care (WORD) develops, in consultation with partners, policy on research and development (R&D) to reflect the health and social care priorities of the Welsh Assembly Government. WORD aims to support the creation of high-quality evidence to both inform policy and benefit patients and the public. WORD also commissions and directly funds R&D activity, contract managing projects and initiatives to ensure that the highest standards are met.

Lowri Jones,

Public Relations Office,

Cardiff University.

029 2087 0995