In March of 2018 a research team led by Professor Daniel Smith, Professor of Psychiatry at the Institute of Health and Wellbeing, the University of Glasgow, was awarded significant new funding in the field of mental health research.
Professor Smith is a Lister Institute Fellow and studies mood disorders (particularly bipolar disorder) and the relationships between major mental illnesses and different forms of cardiovascular disease.
The £10m funding award from the Medical Research Council (MRC) is shared by nine UK institutions. The aim of the grant is to enhance the ability of researchers to use data science in mental health research.
The scale and complexity of challenges in mental health research are well-known and growing problems. Exploiting cutting edge data science techniques to extract value from volumes of routinely collected data can substantially enhance both research activities and clinical outcomes.
However, medical data collected is being done so in huge volumes, across a variety of formats and devices, and with a range of usage and access restrictions. Rationalising these different characteristics, while also ensuring adequate security, anonymity and data access considerations, is no easy task.
The funding provided by the MRC is being delivered as part of the government’s National Productivity Investment Fund (NPIF) and will cover nine different projects. The projects funded are known as Pathfinders, and Professor Smith’s study aims to investigate how to enhance mental health cohorts by improving links to available health, education and administrative datasets. The study will also develop a biobank of DNA samples from a large clinical cohort of patients with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, to be used for future stratified medicine research.
As mentioned, Professor Smith’s research is focussed on two areas. The first is the genetic epidemiology of mood disorders, in particular bipolar disorder. In this work his team uses data from the ALSPAC ‘Children of the 90’s’ cohort, the Bipolar Disorder Research Network and the UK Biobank cohort, and Professor Smith also collaborates internationally with other psychiatric researchers as part of the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium.
The second area of research led by Professor Smith covers the intersection of physical health and psychiatric disorders. This broad programme is attempting to reconcile relationships between major mental illnesses and serious cardiovascular disease, which are often present together.
Professor Smith will be able to use the new MRC funding to develop, refine and apply new data science techniques to these complex issues, and develop new approaches to the use of advanced computing in mental health that can be exploited in other fields. As he explains;
Mental Health Data Pathfinder funding recognises the enormous potential to make better use of routinely collected data and data available within population and clinical cohorts. It will form the basis of a future UK-wide Mental Health Research Platform, similar in design to Dementia Platforms UK. As such, it represents an exciting opportunity to develop data science approaches for psychiatric research. I am extremely grateful for the flexibility and support offered to me by the Lister Institute as I seek to develop this research in years to come.
The Lister Institute is please to be able to support Professor Smith’s work alongside the MRC and the University of Glasgow, and we are looking forward to hearing more about his progress soon.