Queen's Anniversary Prize awarded to Cardiff University's MRC Centre for Neuropsychiatric Genetics and Genomics
19 Nov 2015
Cardiff University’s MRC Centre for Neuropsychiatric Genetics and Genomics has been awarded the UK’s most prestigious academic award - the Queen’s Anniversary Prize. The award acknowledges the Centre for achieving outstanding “transformative insights into causes, diagnosis and treatment of mental illness.
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.
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 range 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.
Professor Sir Michael Owen, director of the Centre, 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.”
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.”
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 held at Buckingham Palace on 25 February.