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New Head of Department & Director for IoP MRC SGDP Centre

Posted on 07/06/2012
Professor Happe

Professor Francesca Happé

The Institute of Psychiatry (IoP) at King’s College London is pleased to announce the appointment of Professor Francesca Happé as the new Head of Department and Director for the MRC Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry (SGDP) Centre.

The SGDP Centre was established by the Medical Research Council (MRC), in partnership with the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London, in 1994. The range of expertise within the Department is unparalleled and includes world-leading experts in psychiatry, psychology, sociology, epidemiology, statistics and genetics. Access to large sets of population data all studied and followed-up over many years, including the English and Romanian Adoptee (ERA) study, the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study and the Twins Early Development Study (TEDS), has allowed unique insight into the interplay between genetic, environmental and developmental factors in mental disorders.

Professor Sir Rick Trainor, Principal of King’s College London says: ‘The MRC SGDP Centre is an outstanding department with a track record of cutting edge research. I welcome Professor Happé’s appointment which will bring the academic rigour and leadership required to ensure the MRC SGDP retains its place at the forefront of international scientific discovery.’

Professor Happé studied Experimental Psychology at Oxford, before completing her PhD on autism  and working as a research scientist at the MRC Cognitive Development Unit, University College London (UCL). After spending a year in Boston on a travel fellowship, studying social cognition following acquired brain lesions, she moved to the SGDP Centre at the IoP in 1996.

In 2008 she became Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at the IoP, where her research focuses on Autism Spectrum Disorders. She has conducted research into the neuro-cognitive basis of typical and atypical social cognition. She is also actively engaged in studies of abilities and assets in people with autism, and their relation to detail-focused perceptual and cognitive style. As well as cognitive methods, her research involves functional imaging, study of acquired brain lesions, family studies of the broader phenotype and, most recently, behaviour genetic methods. Professor Happé has been awarded: the British Psychological Society’s Spearman Medal, the Experimental Psychology Society’s Prize, and in 2011 the Royal Society’s Rosalind Franklin Award. She also won the King’s Supervisory Excellence Award last year, and has recently become President-elect of the International Society for Autism Research.

Professor Shitij Kapur, Dean and Head of School at the IoP says: ‘My warmest congratulations to Professor Happé, a distinguished scientist who has conducted some of the most widely cited research into the cognitive features of autism. The MRC SGDP is the interdisciplinary heart of the IoP and I would like to thank Professor Peter McGuffin for his fine leadership and look forward with enthusiasm to Professor Happé’s tenure.'

Professor Happé says: 'I am truly delighted, and very privileged, to be taking on the Directorship of the MRC SGDP, in the footsteps of wonderful and inspiring scientists such as Professor Sir Michael Rutter, Professor Robert Plomin, and Professor Peter McGuffin.  It is a huge responsibility, and honour, to steer the SGDP Centre as it approaches twenty years since its founding. We have a wonderful group of scientists, and I look forward to refreshing the relationships between the Centre and the rest of IoP and King’s.’

Professor Happé will commence her new role on 1 October 2012.

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