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Hodge Foundation annual meeting explores precision psychiatry

13 December 2023

L-R: Professor Simon Jones, Dr Kerrie Thomas, Professor Lawrence Wilkinson, Professor Marion Leboyer, Jonathan Hodge, Karen Hodge, Professor Jeremy Hall, and Professor Neil Harrison

The Neuroscience and Mental Health Innovation Institute were delighted to host the Hodge Foundation’s annual meeting with over 170 people in attendance.

The conference, which took place on 30 November at the university’s Hadyn Ellis Building, focused on the topic precision psychiatry. It featured engaging talks from academic and third sector experts from across the UK, with guests including university academics, early career researchers, and the Hodge Foundation Trustees Karen and Jonathan Hodge.

Treating mental health disorders remains a profound challenge in the 21st century, despite considerable resources dedicated to the cause. Traditional diagnostic methods often fall short due to the diverse nature of these disorders. This year’s Hodge Foundation annual meeting explored precision psychiatry as a promising avenue for understanding and treating these conditions more effectively.

The first session commenced with Professor Bruce Cuthbert, head of the National Institute of Mental Health’s Research Domain Criteria project, which proposes a more nuanced approach to categorising mental disorders. By integrating functional, behavioural, and neurobiological measures, this model promises more precise diagnosis and treatment.

This was followed by Dr Sophie Legge who emphasised the role of genetics in identifying biomarkers for accurate diagnoses, and Dr Antonio Pardinas who highlighted the importance of pharmacogenomics in tailoring treatments to individual patients. Finally, Alicia Campbell presented the MeOmics approach, leveraging patient data to comprehend the heterogeneous nature of schizophrenia. By studying neural networks, this method aims to provide targeted treatments for better outcomes.

The second session began with Professor Jordan Smoller, Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, who discussed the potential of precision medicine in revolutionising psychiatric diagnosis and treatment using big data. Big data approaches, such as machine learning, offer insights into individual risk assessment and treatment optimisation. For instance, predictive models built on large datasets outperform traditional methods in identifying suicide risk, guiding clinicians in formulating personalised care plans. Moreover, genomic data aids in identifying biomarkers associated with psychiatric disorders, allowing for targeted interventions. Utilising these insights, clinicians can tailor treatments based on individual characteristics, thereby improving patient outcomes.

This was followed by Professor Simon Ward sharing insights from the Medicines Discovery Institute on developing novel pharmacological treatments for schizophrenia. By collaborating with experts across disciplines, the Medicines Discovery Institute aims to translate biological knowledge into effective therapies. Despite past challenges in pharmaceutical investment, precision medicine approaches offer renewed hope for drug development.

In the final part of the session, Professor Adam Hedgecoe provided a sociological perspective on precision psychiatry, exploring its impact on patient and clinician perceptions. He discussed the "uncertainty trough," highlighting varying levels of certainty among different stakeholders regarding new medical techniques. Additionally, he examined the concept of communities of practice in psychiatry and its implications for adapting to innovative approaches.

The academic session finished with a question-and-answer panel, comprising experts from various institutions, which delved into pressing issues surrounding precision psychiatry. Debates ranged from reconciling precision approaches with diagnostic labels to addressing biases in machine learning algorithms. These discussions underscored the ongoing uncertainty in the field and the need for collaborative efforts to advance our understanding and treatment of mental health disorders.

The day concluded with a public lecture from Marion Leboyer, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Paris Est Créteil. In a thought-provoking lecture, Professor Leboyer talked us through her research into how this low-grade inflammation is now thought to be the consequence of interaction between environmental factors such as infections, stress, pollution, or unhealthy lifestyle with immune-genetic background.

The annual meeting was a great success and provided plenty of stimulating discussions. The university would like to thank the Hodge Foundation for their continuing support.

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Developments in neuroscience and mental health research mean that we take another step closer to solving the mysteries lying behind psychiatric and neurodegenerative disorders.