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How Cambridge Neuroscientists are tackling mental health

The secret of healthy living through exercise and eating well is something that we cannot escape on a nearly daily basis. But one of the other things most of us forget is to look after our mental health. Every year, it is estimated one in four people in England will experience a mental health problem, but hundreds of people are going undiagnosed and are struggling in silence.

Professor Ed Bullmore (pictured right) is leading his team of researchers from the NIHR Cambridge Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) at Cambridge University Hospitals (CUH) to look at the mental health spectrum, and implement new research studies to find new treatments for these conditions. And thanks to their research, they think they may have potentially discovered why some people suffer psychosis.

"Mental health comprises a whole range of symptoms and disorders, nearly everyone in the UK will have or know someone who has a mental health condition," said Prof Bullmore. "As part of the Cambridge BRC we provide the infrastructure to focus mental health research on three different platforms - immunology, imaging and informatics.”

"Immunology means we are trying to understand how the immune system is abnormal in people who have depression or psychosis. It may sound surprising that the immune system should be involved in mental health but in fact the links between depression and inflammation are very strong: for example, just think about how you felt last time you had flu.”

"The BRC provides us with the lab support to investigate the links between the immune system and mental health much more deeply and with a focus on developing new treatments for mental health that work by targeting the immune system.”

"Imaging means we are using advanced brain scanning to study how the brain is related to mental health disorders. One of our main projects is focusing on brain development during adolescence. This is important because most mental health disorders appear for the first time during adolescence or early adult life.”

"We think this must be related to the fact that the brain is actively developing and changing its organization during adolescence."

The NIHR Cambridge BRC is currently looking at several different research strands of the mental health spectrum. Prof Bullmore said: "One of the areas we've been looking at is psychosis. Professor Peter Jones and colleagues found that around five per cent of people who came to the psychiatric clinic for the first time had antibodies in their blood which bind to particular signalling proteins or neurotransmitters in the brain.”

"They found that if the antibodies were removed from the blood the patients' psychotic symptoms improved. We're quite excited that this could be a potential new explanation for why some people suffer psychosis.”

"We now have a treatment trial which is funded by the Medical Research Council to further investigate this. This is a great example of how the BRC is supporting mental health research."

Many forms of mental health can affect a person and for some, it can have a lifelong impact. According to the Mental Health Foundation, four to 10 per cent of people in England will experience depression in their lifetime and women are almost twice as likely to be diagnosed with anxiety disorders.

"Mental health research is really important in addressing this major public health challenge," added Prof Bullmore. "Particularly for working age adults of 15-45, mental health is one of the main causes of disability and loss of productivity”.

"There are so many aspects of mental health we don't understand very well, but we are making good progress. We are hoping to see substantial progress towards new treatments in the next five to 10 years - there is a lot of work to do to drive down the economic and social impact."

Adapted from Cambridge News

Posted on 07/06/2016

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