Cardiff celebrates a decade of discovery

By Charlotte King

Cardiff University’s MRC Centre for Neuropsychiatric Genetics and Genomics recently celebrated a “decade of discovery” to mark the Centre’s tenth anniversary and is transitioning from being a Medical Research Council Centre to a Cardiff University Centre.


Established in 2009, the Centre was the first of its type in Wales and is renowned for being one of the world’s leading centres for research into the underlying causes of mental health issues, according to Cardiff University, conducting ‘groundbreaking’ research and advancing scientific understanding of some of the causes of psychiatric, neurodevelopmental and neurodegenerative disorders.


The Centre states that its main objectives are to better understand how psychiatric, neurodevelopmental and neurodegenerative disorders arise, to develop new approaches to diagnose individuals and to identify novel treatment targets.


“Ultimately, we aim to become a leading centre of translational neuroscience.”


Over the past ten years, the Centre has reportedly published over 1,900 research papers and is actively engaged in more than 70 collaborations with researchers across the globe, and last month, the Centre celebrated its decade of successful research so far. Professor Sir Michael Owen, the current director of the Centre who will soon be replaced by Professor James Walters, said:


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


“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.”


A lot of the Centre’s research over the past ten years has been primarily focussed on identifying genetic risk factors for disorders such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, Alzheimer’s disease, and ADHD.


Researchers at the Centre have also, however, “pioneered” studies looking at the genetic overlap between disorders. They believe this has important implications for how mental illness is diagnosed and has led to the identification of novel areas of biology wherein new treatments can potentially be targeted.


The Centre has also won many awards for its research, for example in 2015, it was awarded the Royal College Psychiatrists’ Presidents Medal for contribution to policy, public knowledge, education and meeting population and patient care needs, and in 2012, it received the Sidney R. Baer Prize for Innovative Schizophrenia Research.


Speaking about the Centre, Cardiff University’s Vice Chancellor, 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 am certain there will be more significant discoveries in the Centre’s next chapter.”


Some of its landmark discoveries include:


In 2010, the Centre discovered rare genetic variants which increase the risk of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in certain individuals.


Then, in 2013, the Centre led an international study which uncovered 11 new susceptibility genes for Alzheimer’s disease.


In 2014, the Centre aided with identifying 108 new regions on the genome associated with schizophrenia.


2015 saw it identifying genetic modifiers in Huntington’s disease.


Then, the Centre discovered factors enhancing resilience in young people who are at high familial risk of depression in 2016.


2018 saw it publish the largest genomics study of schizophrenia, identifying 50 additional loci.


Then this year, in 2019, the Centre discovered that rare deletions and duplications of DNA are responsible for a wide-ranging number of developmental difficulties in children.


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