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Dr Helen Fisher receives MQ Fellows Award

Dr Helen Fisher, Lecturer at the MRC Centre for Social Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN), King’s College London, has been awarded an MQ Fellows Award by new research charity MQ: Transforming Mental Health. 

MQ: Transforming Mental Health aims to support research that will improve quality of life for people and families affected by mental illness. Set up with the support of the Wellcome Trust, they aim to raise money and fund exceptional research. 

The MQ Fellows Award is offered annually to support and grow a strong research community for mental health.  It is aimed at early career researchers at the particularly vulnerable juncture of transitioning into research independence. The winners are chosen by a committee made up of international experts from diverse disciplines, including neuroscience, genetics, psychology, psychiatry, and social sciences.  The successful candidates receive each £225,000 in funding over three years. Capitalising on promising scientific and technological advances in their fields, the 2014 MQ Fellows will be carrying out research impacting on a range of mental health conditions to address significant gaps in our understanding of mental illness.

Dr Fisher will use her grant to explore the biological, psychological and social aspects of adverse childhood experiences. Her work aims to understand the development and trajectory of psychotic symptoms in childhood.

“Psychotic symptoms in children, such as hearing and seeing things that others do not, are far more common than generally recognised - reported by approximately 1 in 10 children at 12 years. They are often distressing to children, but do not always lead to mental illness.  Research does suggest however that these symptoms, particularly if they persist in adolescence, can be a predictor of schizophrenia and suicide. The risk is also increased where the symptoms are associated with a history of adverse events in childhood, such as bullying or abuse,” says Dr Fisher.

Dr. Fisher will take advantage of Britain’s significant investment in cohort studies – in particular the ALSPAC, CHADS and E-Risk studies – to further explore the developmental course of childhood psychotic symptoms.  These studies have generated rich sets of sample repositories and databases containing measures of psychosocial factors, psychotic symptoms and adverse life event reports. With support from her MQ Fellows Award, Dr Fisher will analyse data from these cohort studies to understand what factors may increase or decrease the risk of psychotic symptoms among children who have been exposed to adverse events. She will also use samples to explore whether or not there are changes in how genes are regulated that can be associated with these findings.   

Dr Fisher says: “I am extremely grateful to have received this award. By simultaneously examining biological, psychological and social aspects of adverse childhood experiences we hope to understand the development and trajectory of childhood psychotic symptoms. This will help us to better identify those at risk and target interventions to prevent mental illness and life-threatening behaviours, such as suicide, among the most vulnerable children.”

For further information, please contact Claire Hastings, Press Officer, King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience. Tel: (+44) 207 848 5377 or email: