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King's joins global initiative to identify risk factors for mental illness

King’s College London is part of a major global initiative to discover factors that affect the brain, either by helping or harming it. By pooling brain scans and DNA collected from 30,000 people at over 185 sites globally, the ENIGMA Project aims to identify risk factors behind mental illness, and understand when treatments are most likely to work. 

ENIGMA brings together researchers in the US, Europe, and Australia and has today received a $11million boost in funding from the US National Institutes of Health.

Dr Sylvane Desrivieres and Professor Gunter Schumann from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King’s are part of the core ENIGMA team. They will be contributing data from IMAGEN, a European study of over 2,000 teenagers aiming to understand brain activity and genetic characteristics of risk taking behaviour and mental health. 

Dr Sylvane Desrivieres says: “Being a large cohort collecting genetic, neuroimaging, neuropsychological and behavioural assessments in the same typically developing adolescents at different ages, IMAGEN is an important part of ENIGMA. It has already contributed to its success not only by providing access to its dataset, but by helping the development and testing of methodological approaches to identify imaging genetic markers. 

“This announcement of funding encourages our concerted efforts to analyse large scale biomedical data to understand brain function and identify clinically applicable marker signatures.”

The announcement of funding for ENIGMA comes as part of the $96 million US Big Data to Knowledge Initiative announced in 2013, to discover patterns in large scale collections of medical data. The efforts targeting large scale biomedical data promise to discover better diagnostic tools for dementia, schizophrenia and developmental disorders such as autism, which have been challenging to treat as their root causes are unknown. 

“Our effort brings a new source of power to biomedical science: our global alliance pools brain scans and DNA in a monumental global effort to understand brain diseases”, said Professor Paul Thompson, co-founder of ENIGMA and co-ordinator of the Big Data grant from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles (US). 

“The combined data is so vast that no one scientist could ever analyse it on their own. Together, we can screen each other’s data to discover genes or medications that influence Alzheimer’s disease, depression and mental illnesses.” 

Further information, please contact Seil Collins, Press Officer (IoPPN) / 0044 207 848 5377