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MRC grant for ‘IMAGINE-2’ awarded

7 May 2020

Professor Marianne van den Bree
Professor Marianne van den Bree

An MRC grant to study the development of children at high genetic risk of learning difficulties and mental health problems has been awarded to a team in the Division of Psychological Medicine and Clinical Neuroscience.

The MRC grant ‘IMAGINE-2’ is a follow-up study of the successful research programme IMAGINE (Stratifying Genomic Causes of Intellectual Disability by Mental Health Outcomes in Childhood and Adolescence).

The IMAGINE project recruited 3,500 families who had a child with a rare genetic condition linked to very high risk of developmental and mental health difficulties. These children have very small changes in their DNA which affect their development and mental health. Families with these children were recruited through all NHS medical genetics clinics in the UK and parents completed an online assessment for their child.

A subsample of over 500 families was subsequently invited for detailed in-home assessments of the child’s development, thinking and learning ability, behaviour and physical and mental health. This project found that 80% of the children with these rare genetic conditions had one or more mental health disorders, including ADHD, autism and anxiety disorder. In addition more than 90% of these children had problems with their movement and this was more likely to be the case for children with lower IQ and those with mental health issues. The Cardiff team also found that there was considerable similarity in the difficulties that children with a range of different rare genetic conditions experienced. These findings are contributing important new information about these genetic conditions and also increase our understanding of learning difficulties and mental health disorders more generally.

Professor Marianne van den Bree, who will lead the Cardiff University in-home assessments of a subgroup of children and their family members said ‘Very little is known about what happens when children with learning difficulties of genetic causes become adolescents and subsequently adults. Parents always ask us this question. The IMAGINE-2 project will make an important contribution towards filling this gap in understanding.

'Not enough is known about the genetic causes of learning difficulties. This research programme between Cardiff university and University College London is gaining important insights into the development of children at very high risk of learning difficulties because they have a rare genetic condition.'

The new project (IMAGINE-2) continues the collaboration between Cardiff University and University College London. It will re-contact all families that have participated in the IMAGINE study and conduct the same assessments.

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