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Queen’s Anniversary Prize

19 November 2015

QAP logo 2015

Cardiff University’s world-leading mental health research facility has been awarded the UK’s most prestigious academic award - the Queen’s Anniversary Prize.

The prize is awarded every two years by the Queen in recognition of an academic or vocational institution, and falls within the UK’s national honours system.

Speaking of the award, Professor Sir Michael Owen said: “I am extremely proud of all the staff in the Centre for winning this award.

“It is a reflection of the amazing achievements made possible by an excellent team of scientific, technical and administrative staff which sits at the forefront of mental health research.

“Their efforts have succeeded in casting light into some of the darkest corners of mental illness and place us in strong position to make further advances that will lead to substantial benefit to patients.

“Over the next five to ten years, the focus of the Centre will be to put our genetic discoveries to work to better understand disease mechanisms, develop improved diagnostic approaches and treatments; and become a leading centre of translational neuroscience.

“Centre scientists are also increasingly applying genetic findings in epidemiological settings in order to study the impact of genes at a population level, improve prediction and diagnosis, and understand how environmental and social factors interact with genetic predisposition to cause mental illness.

“I am very grateful to the MRC for their sustained support for our research over many years, and to Health and Care Research Wales as well as many other funders. I am also immensely grateful to Cardiff University for backing us so strongly and for nominating us for this award.”

Under the leadership of Professor Owen the Centre brings together a global community of leading researchers to investigate the causes of a number of major psychiatric and neurodegenerative disorders.

Their work seeks to improve understanding of how these diseases arise; to develop new diagnostic approaches and identify new targets for treatment.

Its research has, since launching in 2009, made giant strides in discovering the genetic underpinnings of a range of diseases from Alzheimer’s and schizophrenia to bipolar disorder and ADHD.

Among the Centre’s landmark discoveries are the identification of a genetic link between intellectual disability, autism, ADHD and schizophrenia; the discovery of the first specific genetic risk factors for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and ADHD; and the discovery of the first new Alzheimer’s disease risk genes for over 17 years.

This work has implicated a number of novel disease mechanisms and Centre scientists are now using a variety of cutting-edge techniques to translate these recent findings into new approaches to treatment and prevention.

As well as their fundamental genetic discoveries, the work of Centre researchers has directly influenced policy and practice.

For example, their research has provided strong evidence that cannabis is one of the few modifiable risk factors in the prevention of schizophrenia; has led to a novel interactive programme to help sufferers of bipolar disorder manage their condition; and has effected a step change in the way homeless young people in Wales are assessed for mental health disorders.

Vice-Chancellor Professor Colin Riordan said: “In the six years it’s been operational, the Centre has gleaned insights to some of the most intractable mental health illnesses.

“The internationally-renowned team has translated ground-breaking findings into real patient benefit, helping to cement the University’s world-leading position in mental health research. This prize is a well-deserved reflection of that success.”

The award has been welcomed by the wider academic and political community.

First Minister of Wales Carwyn Jones said:“I’d like to offer my congratulations to Cardiff University for being awarded the highly prestigious Queen’s Anniversary Prize.

“It truly is a fantastic achievement and clear recognition of the exceptional work that’s being undertaken at the University in finding pioneering and innovative ways of treating mental illness.”

Professor Sir John Savill, Chief Executive of the Medical Research Council, said: “Research into mental health has made some amazing advances over the last five years. Genes for common mental illnesses have been discovered and we’re rapidly discovering more - the MRC Centre for Neuropsychiatric Genetics and Genomics has played a world-leading role in this enormous leap-forward in our biological understanding of mental health disorders.

“For example, the genetic overlap that has been demonstrated between autism, schizophrenia and bipolar is changing our understanding of these disorders. The next step will be to look at the functional implications of these genes and the biological pathways as this research will inform us of the best opportunities to treat these pervasive mental health disorders.”

Eric Lander, President and founding director of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard in Cambridge, Massachusetts, said:"The Cardiff University team has played a critical role in uniting the global research community toward the goal of transforming the understanding and eventual treatment of psychiatric disease. It's wonderful to see their accomplishments recognized with this award."

The Centre offers a unique research environment in Wales to increase participation in mental health research and translates discoveries into direct patient benefit.

In the six years it’s been active, it has created 182 jobs and attracted over £90M of investment, succeeding in establishing the University and Wales as global leaders in neuroscience and mental health.

Beyond research, the Centre delivers innovative programmes in undergraduate and postgraduate education and is committed to dispelling the stigma around mental health disorders through a wide-ranging public engagement agenda.

Since 1998, the University has won six Queen’s Anniversary Prizes for research ranging from geo-environmental engineering and violence prevention to medical genetics and clinical diagnosis.

The Queen’s Anniversary Prize was established in 1993 with the approval of the Queen and received all-party support in Parliament.

The awards ceremony will be held at Buckingham Palace on 25 February.