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£4.3 million for world-leading research into severe mental illness

27 February 2024

Brain scan

Cardiff University will form part of a new Mental Health Platform Research Hub, which will advance the understanding, diagnosis and treatment of severe mental illness has been awarded a £4.3million grant from UK Research & Innovation (UKRI) and the Medical Research Council (MRC).

The South Wales and South-West England (SW²) Hub will bring together an interdisciplinary network of world-leading researchers, from the GW4 Alliance universities of Cardiff, Bath, Bristol, and Exeter, alongside Swansea University, Adferiad Recovery, Bipolar UK, and people with lived experience, to accelerate impactful research into, and treatments for, severe mental conditions.

The SW² Hub team will look to change this situation and improve the lives of people with psychotic disorders, by combining and analysing data acquired at scale, with machine learning and clustering approaches, to advance knowledge of the causes behind the development of severe mental illnesses.

Research conducted at the Hub will also aim to improve the systems currently in place for the diagnosis of psychotic disorders which is currently based solely on descriptions of symptoms and behaviour. The team will develop more objective methods of diagnosis by using biopsychosocial measures such as genetics, cognitive tasks, brain imaging, markers in people’s blood, as well as assessments of their development and social and cultural background. These more precise diagnoses will enable the development of better targeted treatments, aiming to replicate advances made within cancer care treatment.

The SW2 Hub will provide unrivalled opportunities for researchers across South Wales and the South West of England to conduct vital research into crucial areas of mental health science. Collaborating alongside Swansea University and the GW4 Alliance institutions, along with teams in Bipolar UK and Adferiad Recovery, will allow us to harness the collective expertise of our regions to advance our understanding of severe mental illness.
Professor James Walters Director, Centre for Neuropsychiatric Genetics and Genomics; Deputy Director/Professor, Division of Psychological Medicine and Clinical Neurosciences

A core component of the work of the SW² Hub will involve partnering with patient representative organisations, Adferiad Recovery and Bipolar UK, alongside working with a cohort of people with lived experience (PWLE) of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and schizoaffective disorder, to address the existing lack of diversity in consented research studies, and to ensure that the results of mental health research are representative and applicable to the whole population.

Mental health and mental illness are key areas of focus within GW4’s strategic priority of advancing health and wellbeing research and innovation for all. The development of the SW² Hub presents a fantastic opportunity to bring together a vibrant, supportive and productive network of researchers, which harnesses the wealth of expertise that we have in mental health research across the GW4 Alliance, whilst also developing future mental health specialists. Working alongside key industry and charity partners, and our colleagues at Swansea University, we look forward to conducting world-leading research which will improve understanding of, and treatment for, severe mental illness.
Dr Joanna Jenkinson, MBE GW4 Alliance Director

The SW² Hub will form part of a new £22.5m mental health platform, established by UKRI to address the particular challenges of severe mental illness. The platform will bring together researchers from a wide range of medical and non-medical disciplines and institutions.

It aims to connect them together to focus their efforts on generating an in-depth understanding of those who experience SMI to help discover new approaches for diagnosis, treatment and support.

This initiative is supported by funding from the Securing Better Health, Ageing and Wellbeing theme, one of five UKRI-wide initiatives aiming to harness the full power of the UK’s research and innovation system to tackle large-scale, complex challenges.

We need to know much more about the causes of severe mental illness so we can develop new treatments. This new UKRI investment will provide this, offering hope and encouragement to all those affected. Securing Better Health, Ageing and Wellbeing is one of five UKRI strategic themes which harness the full power of the UK’s research and innovation system to tackle large-scale, complex challenges such as this. Working with others, we aim to improve population health, tackle the health inequalities affecting people and communities, and promote interventions that keep us healthier for longer.
Professor Patrick Chinnery Executive Chair, Medical Research Council

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