Former Fellow Professor Daniel Smith awarded £6.5m funding to explore circadian rhythms and bipolar disorder

As a leading researcher in bipolar disorder, circadian science and population mental health research, Daniel will spearhead new research in these areas.

Since becoming Chair of Psychiatry and Head of the Division of Psychiatry at the University of Edinburgh in April 2021, 2016 Lister Fellow, Professor Daniel Smith, has been seeking to establish a new research programme on mental health and circadian science research.

As part of this intention, Edinburgh’s Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences has recently launched the UK Circadian Mental Health Research Network, funded by the Medical Research Council.

Daniel says:

““The initiative will drive new collaborations at the interface between circadian science and mental health, with a focus on supporting early career researchers in this area.”

And within the last month, Daniel has also been successful as principal investigator for two major Wellcome Trust Mental Health Awards – running until 2028 and funded to the tune of £6.5 million.

Both projects focus on the theme of circadian rhythms and bipolar disorder.

Daniel Smith
Professor Daniel Smith

The first project, Lithium’s mechanism in bipolar disorder: investigating the light hypersensitivity hypothesis (HELIOS-BD), will investigate the idea that lithium is effective in bipolar disorder because it reduces hypersensitivity to evening light, making individuals less vulnerable to light-induced circadian disruption.

Run across six complementary workstreams, this project will test the extent to which individuals with bipolar disorder are hypersensitive to the effects of evening light, whether lithium works via a mechanism that decreases retinal sensitivity to light-induced circadian disruption, and whether there is a microstructural basis in the retina for this hypersensitivity and its attenuation by lithium therapy.

“If correct, this discovery will back-translate into more precise sub-phenotyping of early-stage bipolar disorder and new and more targeted chronotherapy approaches,” says Daniel.

The second project, Ambient and passive collection of sleep and circadian rhythm data in bipolar disorder to understand symptom trajectories and clinical outcomes (AMBIENT-BD), will address the need to assess longer-term individual-level changes in sleep, activity, and mood, to better understand symptom trajectories and mechanisms of relapse in bipolar disorder.

AMBIENT-BD will work with a lived experience advisory panel to identify and prioritize clinical and functional outcome measures and develop ‘low intensity’ and passive methods for data collection. In parallel, it will develop a system to support data collection and optimize data sharing with patients, clinicians, and the research community.

“We will also be working with Bipolar Scotland to co-produce an innovative programme of knowledge exchange on the theme of ‘Sleep, circadian rhythms and bipolar disorder’,” adds Daniel.

Daniel’s personal research involves looking at the genetic epidemiology of mood disorders such as bipolar disorder and seeks to establish relationships between psychiatric disorders and different forms of cardiovascular disease. He continues to work as an Honorary Consultant Psychiatrist within NHS Lothian.

We at the Lister Institute are proud to have supported Daniel with Fellowship funding to help develop his research career, and we look forward to watching further developments!

You can find out more about Daniel and his work here.