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BHP members join new Mission for mental health research

BHP members the University of Birmingham, Birmingham Women’s and Children’s NHS Foundation Trust and Birmingham & Solihull Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust, are part of the Government’s new Mental Health Mission – designed to develop radical new treatments for mental health conditions.

The £42.7M investment into research aims to improve the speed and accuracy of diagnosis and increase the use of new technologies, as well as novel and targeted treatment approaches for those with mental illnesses – including young people at Forward Thinking Birmingham (FTB), the city’s unique 0-25s Youth Mental Health Service.

The Mission will be delivered through the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Mental Health Translational Research Collaboration, a UK wide network of leading investigators specialising in mental health research.

In Birmingham, £9.9 million in funding will enable the establishment of the Midlands Translational Research Centre of Excellence, co-led by the Universityof Birmingham with Birmingham Women’s and Children’s Hospitals and Birmingham & Solihull Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust, with reach across the Midlands through the five years’ funding.

Research will focus on increasing recruitment to new studies to test and validate treatments in early psychosis, depression and children and young people. We will work with people with lived experience to comprehensively understand the best way to test novel treatments. There are also plans to train and support a network of new researchers, partners, NHS staff and young people in the Midlands.

Professor Rachel Upthegrove, Professor of Psychiatry and Youth Mental Health at the University of Birmingham and Mental Health Research and Development Lead at Birmingham Women’s and Children’s NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We’re delighted that the Government is making such a significant investment in mental health research. This funding will allow us to increase and lead large-scale early intervention trials aimed at delaying or preventing the onset of severe mental illness, and its impact, with evidence-based treatments and support.

“The Centre will put research where we need it most, focusing on young, superdiverse, and deprived populations, which may be unfairly missing out on access to research.”

Teams at the Research Centre will work with individuals with lived experience to understand the best way to test treatments. There are also plans to train and support a network of new researchers, partners, NHS staff and young people in the Midlands.  

Building on the priority healthcare missions launched in November 2022 as part of the Life Sciences Vision, the Mental Health Mission will promote collaboration across different sectors to bolster research and attract further investment from industry and research organisations.

Nationally, the Mental Health Mission will be chaired by Kathryn Abel and Husseini Manji. In a joint statement, they said: “We are delighted to be working together to make the new Mental Health Mission a truly revolutionary force behind mental health research. We want the Mission to create tangible differences to the lives of patients, both in the UK and internationally. Between us, we bring a wealth of experience in mental health research and innovation, and a commitment to genuine collaboration with patients, industry and healthcare staff.

“Bringing together the public sector, patients and industry as equal partners, the Mission will work with the Office for Life Sciences and the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) to support the NHS and NIHR to capitalise on its size and scope, and on the depth of its data resources. Alongside additional investment in mental health research and infrastructure, the Mission will foster a step change in the way we think about mental health, mental illness and its treatment. This will support development of the critically needed treatments across the spectrum of mental illness.

“We want the UK to be the most attractive place to conduct robust, high impact mental health research, ensuring people have access to the best, and newest, treatments. We are confident that the Mission will be unique in its ability to convene and challenge national partners to make this happen.”


Second city’s strategic health alliance welcomes mental health trust as new member

Birmingham Health Partners has underlined its commitment to delivering research that enhances health and wellbeing by welcoming Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust (BSMHFT) as its fifth NHS member.

BSMHFT was founded in 2003 and provides a wide range of inpatient, community and specialist mental health services – including early intervention and rehabilitation – and is one of the largest mental health trusts in the country with a workforce of around 4,000 across 50 sites. With a national and international reputation for research, BSMHFT maintains strong academic links with a number of prestigious institutions including BHP members the University of Birmingham and Aston University, and its portfolio includes studies focused on dementia, eating disorders, addictions, mood disorders and perinatal mental health.

Roisin Fallon Williams, Chief Executive of BSMHFT, commented: “My colleagues and I welcome the opportunities that membership of Birmingham Health Partners will provide to both our service users and our Trust, through the benefits of continued research and innovation in provision of mental health care in our region. We believe passionately that research is complementary to service delivery, rather than surplus to it, and BHP’s ethos of embedding research into all stages of clinical care is a perfect fit with our own culture.”

Professor David Adams, Director of BHP, commented: “BHP’s mission is to work collaboratively to ensure our community are ‘born well, live well, and die well’. The importance of mental health and wellbeing to this vision cannot be overstated, and neither can the intrinsic link between physical and mental health be overlooked. BSMHFT is already a long-term partner in many of the mental health studies and trials run across BHP, and so their formal inclusion in our partnership is a natural extension of our collaborations to date.”

BHP’s membership now comprises: the University of Birmingham; Aston University; Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust; Birmingham Women’s and Children’s NHS Foundation Trust; the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital NHS Foundation Trust; Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals NHS Trust; University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust; and the West Midlands Academic Health Science Network.

£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

Genetically-determined levels of inflammation linked to neuropsychiatric illness

A potential link between inflammation and the structure of specific regions of the brain has been identified by researchers at BHP founder-members the University of Birmingham.

The study, published today in JAMA Psychiatry, may be particularly relevant for neurodevelopmental psychiatric disorders including autism spectrum and schizophrenia.

Researchers say the findings could open up a completely new target for the pharmacological treatment of these disorders, which has not significantly changed since the identification of antipsychotic medications in the mid-late 20th century.

The research was carried out by a team based in the University’s Institute for Mental Health and Institute and Institute of Cancer and Genomic Sciences, with collaborators from the University of Cambridge, Manchester and Bristol. It showed that genes associated with inflammation, particularly interleukin (IL) 6, are linked to a reduction in grey matter volume in certain areas of the brain known to be implicated in neuropsychiatric disorders.

Using records from the UK Biobank, a large-scale biomedical database, the team was able to compare genetic variants which affect levels of IL-6, and other inflammatory genes in more than 20,000 patients with changes in grey matter volume in specific areas of the brain.

They were able to show strong links between IL-6 and brain structure particularly in the temporal and frontal regions. Further analysis using the Allen Human Brain Atlas, showed that genes overexpressed in these areas are associated with conditions such as epilepsy, cognitive dysfunction, and schizophrenia.

Professor Rachel Upthegrove of the University of Birmingham Institute for Mental Health, explained: “This study shows that the IL-6 gene, which we know to be linked to systemic inflammation, also affects brain structure in areas associated with these neuropsychiatric disorders. Understanding these links offers an exciting opportunity to explore new treatments which target IL-6. This could be the first new target for severe mental illnesses including schizophrenia identified in more than 60 years.”

Dr John Williams, of the Institute for Cancer and Genomic Sciences at the University, a first author on the paper, said: “Current treatments for these illnesses act on dopamine, a chemical messenger in the brain associated with mood and attention. These drugs can have side effects, however, and they are not effective in all patients.

“There are drugs already on the market which target inflammation as well as the opportunity to screen potential new compounds. Finding a new avenue for exploring the links between inflammation, brain structure and neuropsychiatric disorders is really exciting.”

The work is part of the PIMS (Psychosis Immune Mechanism Stratified Medicine Study) programme, led by the University of Birmingham and set up to investigate the links between inflammation and psychosis. In the next phase of the research, the group will carry out experimental studies to knock out IL-6, as well as replicating the Biobank research in more diverse patient cohorts.

New programme to train future mental health and neuroscience professionals

Future healthcare professionals working in mental health and neurosciences will be trained at a new Doctoral Training Programme (DTP) thanks to a multi-million award from Wellcome.

Led by the University of Nottingham, the new DTP is a collaboration between the Universities of Nottingham, Leicester, Birmingham and Warwick.

Wellcome has awarded over £7.24 million to the University of Nottingham to establish the Midlands Mental Health and Neurosciences PhD Programme for Healthcare Professionals which will begin its training programme in October 2022. The unique partnership will lead the innovative multidisciplinary training centre that will develop the next generation of NHS research leaders across the workforce.

The centre will also be supported by a number of NHS Trusts in the Midlands including BHP member Birmingham Women’s and Children’s NHS Foundation Trust, as well as Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust; Coventry and Warwickshire Partnership NHS Trust; University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust; Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust; Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Foundations Trust and Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust.

Through 25 PhD scholarships focused on mental health (MH) and neurosciences (N), students will have the opportunity to research a ‘theme’ representing the lifespan (children, young people and perinatal MH; common MH; severe MH; dementia; and physical health comorbidity with MH), using specific bio-psycho-social approaches.

Healthcare profession-specific mentors will ensure scholars remain connected to their primary professional groups. Scholars will leave the programme as well-rounded clinical-academics with high-levels of MH&N research acumen, and enhanced communication and leadership skills.

Professor Roshan das Nair from the School of Medicine at the University of Nottingham and the Institute of Mental Health, is Director of the Centre. He said: “We are absolutely delighted to have won this award, which is a huge achievement for our four universities and the NHS Trusts with whom we work, and is a testament to teamwork. Our Doctoral Training Programme will advance the mental health and neuroscience research we conduct here in the Midlands.

“This award will enable us to share the excellent resources we have across the partner universities and NHS Trusts to develop the next generation of multidisciplinary clinical academics in mental health and neurosciences, and support their research. Our Doctoral Training Programme will create an ambitious Midlands-based, internationally connected, clinical-academic ecosystem. Through our collaborations, we hope to address the key contemporary mental health challenges our societies face.”

Professor Matthew Broome, Director of the Institute for Mental Health at the University of Birmingham, said: “Our population in the Midlands suffers from significant health inequalities, with high rates of mental health challenges. This training centre is a huge opportunity to address these challenges, increase our research capacity in mental health and neuroscience, and develop a diverse group of clinical academics from a wide range of professional groups, including nursing, social work, occupational therapy, pharmacy, medicine, and psychology.”

New study aims to improve healthcare for pregnant women with multiple health conditions

BHP founder-member the University of Birmingham is leading a new three-year UK-wide study aimed at improving healthcare and outcomes for pregnant women who have two or more active long-term health conditions.

Currently, one in five pregnant women in the UK have two or more active long-term health conditions. These can be both physical conditions (like diabetes or raised blood pressure), and mental health conditions (such as depression or anxiety). Often women also have to take several medications to manage their different health needs.

The new study, called Multimorbidity and Pregnancy: Determinants, Clusters, Consequences and Trajectories (MuM-PreDiCT), aims to use data-driven research to characterise and understand what makes having two or more long-term conditions more likely for pregnant women and the consequences for mother and child; and to predict and prevent adverse outcomes.

MuM-PreDiCT will be divided into five research work packages:

      1. Examining how health conditions accumulate over time and identifying what makes a woman more at risk of developing two or more long-term health conditions before pregnancy.
      2. Exploring women’s experiences of care during pregnancy, birth and after birth, working together with families and health professionals to establish how care could be improved.
      3. Deeper delve into how having two or more long-term health conditions may affect pregnant women and their children by identifying outcomes that women, health professionals and researchers feel should be reported in research; examining how often women experience pregnancy complications; and exploring how frequently women and their children develop additional long-term ill health
      4. Investigating how taking combinations of medication may affect pregnant women with two or more long-term health conditions and their babies.
      5. Building a prediction model to help identify how likely a previously healthy pregnant woman will develop multiple long-term conditions after pregnancy.

Professor Krish Nirantharakumar, of the University of Birmingham’s Institute of Applied Health Research and Principal Investigator of MuM-PreDiCT, said: “Having two or more health conditions is becoming more common in pregnant women as women are increasingly older when they start having a family and as obesity and mental health conditions are on the rise in general.

“However, we don’t really understand what the consequences are of multiple health conditions or medications for mothers and babies.

“This can make pregnancy, healthcare and managing medications more complicated. Without deeper understanding of the problem, women with several long-term health conditions may not have the best and safest experience of care before, during and after pregnancy because services have not been designed with their health needs in mind.”

Dr Beck Taylor, Clinical Senior Lecturer at the University of Birmingham and Co-Investigator of MuM-PreDiCT, said: “Our research will provide valuable information to help women and clinicians make informed decisions and identify points for prevention and intervention. We will also explore the experiences of maternity care for women with two or more long-term conditions and work with families and health and social care professionals to produce recommendations on how to plan and design services that meet the needs of women and their families before, during and after pregnancy.”

MuM-PreDiCT is being funded via the £20M UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) Strategic Priorities Fund (SPF) initiative ‘Tackling multi-morbidity at scale: Understanding disease clusters, determinants & biological pathways’. SPF is delivered by the Medical Research Council and National Institute for Health Research in partnership with the Economic and Social Research Council, and in collaboration with the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. It is jointly funded by UKRI and the Department of Health and Social Care, through the NIHR.

MuM-PreDiCT is being led by the University of Birmingham in collaboration with the University of Aberdeen, University of St Andrews, Swansea University, Queen’s University of Belfast, University of Ulster, The University of Manchester, Keele University, University Hospitals Bristol & Weston NHS Foundation Trust, Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, and Guy’s & St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust.

Siang Ing Lee, Academic Clinical Fellow at the University of Birmingham and MuM-PreDiCT, added: “We would like to extend our heartfelt gratitude to our amazing patient and public involvement (PPI) advisory group and PPI co-investigators who will play an integral part in MuM-PreDiCT.”