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£35.4 million funding boost for brain and mental health research

The University of Birmingham is part of a significant programme to deliver innovative treatments and therapies in brain health thanks to a £35.4 million award.

The award, made to the NIHR Oxford Health Biomedical Research Centre, is part of a package of funding from the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) for Biomedical Research Centres (BRC) and the Oxford Health BRC is one of just two centres in the country currently wholly dedicated to mental health.

The University of Birmingham is a partner in the programme, along with fellow BHP member the Birmingham Women’s and Children’s NHS Foundation Trust, and the second city’s mental health trusts.

Thematic areas of research – including depression therapeuticsmental health in development with a focus on children and young people, psychological treatments and brain technologies – can now be advanced by leading scientists, clinicians and academics who are linked via a network of centres of excellence in brain health.

These include NHS organisations and universities complemented by collaborations around the globe. Together they will make it possible to directly translate research into potential new treatments, diagnostic tests and medical technologies for NHS patients.

Professor Matthew Broome, Director of the Institute of Mental Health at the University of Birmingham said: “Birmingham is a young and diverse city with high levels of deprivation and mental health morbidity. This important investment will support discovery science in emerging and established mental illness, offer our population the benefits of new therapeutic advances for depression and psychosis, and lead the development of a clinical data analysis pipeline for new brain imaging technologies.

“This collective expertise will help improve our mechanistic understanding of health and illness, and will prioritise the experiences of young people throughout, working closely with them and their communities to support their flourishing and wellbeing.”

“It builds on the success of the current centre which has, over the past five years, delivered new psychological and digital treatments, advances in drug discovery and new ways of integrating research and clinical care.

“The new award now provides us with a wonderful opportunity to transform care for mental and brain health and wellbeing across the whole country and, actually, the world. We can now translate the best research from UK biomedical science, data science and engineering, social science and arts and the humanities for the benefit of clinical care and population health.

“We are enormously grateful to the NIHR and the International Panel for both understanding and generously supporting our ambitious plans and vision. We are now looking forward to co-designing with patients and the public powerful new approaches that can be tested, refined and then implemented across the NHS and beyond.”

What are the new Oxford Health BRC themes?

The 11 themes all have extensive scientific collaborations between Oxford Health BRC and academic and NHS site across the country. They are

      • Better Sleep (with the University of Surrey) will exploit new sleep and circadian science to develop, test, and translate innovations to improve health.
      • Brain Technologies (Birmingham and the University of Surrey) will deliver brain technologies for use in psychological, psychiatric and brain disorders.
      • Data Science will deliver tools to personalise care of individual patients with mental health disorders by combining routine clinical and research data
      • Dementia will preserve cognitive health and prevent cognitive decline by refining cognitive, imaging and blood-based biomarkers at-scale in the general population and in people experiencing memory problems.
      • Depression Therapeutics (Birmingham) will use human neurocognitive models to help identify and develop new and improved treatments for depression
      •  Flourishing and Wellbeing (Birmingham and Brighton) will enable flourishing initiatives and interventions for patients and non-patients, delivered in spaces beyond the clinic.
      •  Mental Health in Development (Universities of Birmingham, Liverpool, Oxford Brookes and Reading, with Berkshire Healthcare Foundation Trust) will develop targeted, effective, and accessible mental health interventions that meet the needs of diverse children and young people.
      •  Molecular targets (Birmingham) will create a pipeline to translate and back-translate between discovery neuroscience and the clinic, to identify and test new therapeutic targets.
      •  Pain will identify and target chronic pain brain-based mechanisms
      •  Preventing multiple morbidities (Universities of Liverpool, Oxford Brookes, and Sheffield with Sheffield Health & Social Care NHS FT) in whole and high-risk populations will improve population health, reduce inequalities by co-developing and testing population interventions to prevent non-communicable disease and individual interventions for people with mental illness at greatest need.
      • Psychological Treatments (national reach) will develop new effective and efficient psychological interventions that precisely target core psychological mechanism