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World-leading mental health research centre celebrates ‘decade of discovery'

5 November 2019

Professor Sir Michael Owen and Professor James Walters
Professor Sir Michael Owen and Professor James Walters

One of the world’s leading centres for research into the underlying causes of mental health issues is marking its 10th anniversary.

The MRC Centre for Neuropsychiatric Genetics and Genomics is also transitioning from a Medical Research Council Centre to a Cardiff University Centre, and Professor James Walters is taking over as director, replacing Professor Sir Michael Owen.

The Centre, established in 2009 as the first MRC centre in Wales and a centre of excellence for the UK, has made significant advances in understanding some of the causes of psychiatric, neurodevelopmental and neurodegenerative disorders.

Much of the research has centred on identifying genetic risk factors for disorders like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, Alzheimer’s disease and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Centre scientists have also pioneered studies of the genetic overlap between disorders which has important implications for the way we diagnose mental illness, and have identified novel areas of biology as potential targets for new treatments.

The Centre has published more than 1,900 papers and has more than 70 active collaborations with researchers across the world.

Landmark discoveries

2010discovered rare genetic variants that increase the risk of ADHD
2013led an international study that uncovered 11 new susceptibility genes for Alzheimer’s disease
2014saw the identification of 108 new regions on the genome associated with schizophrenia
2015identified genetic modifiers in Huntington’s disease
2016discovered factors that enhance resilience in young people at high familial risk of depression
2018published the largest genomics study of schizophrenia identifying an additional 50 loci
2019discovered that rare deletions and duplications of DNA responsible for wide-ranging developmental difficulties in children

An event to celebrate the Centre’s successes - and look ahead to plans for the next decade - was held on 22 October.

Sir Mike said: “It has been a great 10 years and it’s been marvellous to see so many important discoveries in a whole range of different psychological disorders.

I would particularly like to acknowledge the work of my many excellent academic colleagues and our support from the MRC, Cardiff University and Health and Care Research Wales.I’m really delighted that Professor James Walters has been appointed as my successor and I have every confidence that he will lead the Centre over the next 10 years with great distinction.

Professor Sir Michael Owen Professor, Division of Psychological Medicine and Clinical Neurosciences; Emeritus Director of the Neuroscience and Mental Health Innovation Institute

Professor Walters said: "The MRC Centre has been at the forefront of landmark discoveries in neuropsychiatric genetics over the last decade, providing important insights into mental health conditions and dementia.

“It is an absolute pleasure to take over as director from Professor Sir Michael Owen and to steer the transition to the Centre for Neuropsychiatric Genetics and Genomics at Cardiff University.

“The CNGG will continue to invest in the brilliant staff and resources in Cardiff to lead international genetic research and to use the knowledge gained from this research to improve the lives of those with mental health and neurological conditions."

Cardiff University’s Vice Chancellor, Professor Colin Riordan, said: “The Centre has led some of the most important discoveries in the genetics of psychiatric and neurodegenerative disorders of recent years.

“It has changed the face of mental health research - and, ultimately, changed the way we think about many mental health conditions.

“I would like to thank everyone who has contributed to this success over the past 10 years - and congratulate all staff on reaching this milestone.

“I am certain there will be many more significant discoveries in the Centre’s next chapter.”

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