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ERC-funded study to examine how we define mental health disorders

The European Research Council (ERC) has today announced funding awards for 277 senior scientists in 21 countries across Europe, including an advanced investigator award for Professor Gunter Schumann of the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King’s College London.

The STRATIFY project will contribute to developing a new classification of mental health disorders, including depression, ADHD and alcohol use disorders, that is based on the function of neural networks in the brain. By identifying disease markers based on brain function, Professor Schumann and his team will seek to identify how mental disorders develop and how they could be treated with targeted therapies.

The researchers will carry out a genetic analysis of 600 patients with depression, ADHD and alcohol use disorders, in addition to 200 healthy controls. Using innovative statistical analysis methods taken from artificial intelligence research, they will be able to explore a range of measures of brain structure and function, as well as measures of behaviour, emotion and environment.

Features of brain functions that are related to mental health problems will be tested in independent samples of over 300,000 individuals, including in the IMAGEN cohort that has established repeated measures of brain structure and function, behaviour and environment in 2,000 adolescents.

Professor Gunter Schumann from the MRC Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry (SGDP) Centre at King’s College London, said: ‘These competitive awards enable researchers to push the boundaries of our knowledge by enabling innovative ‘high risk, high gain’ studies.

‘This new award will allow us to take a new look at the way we define mental disorders by directly linking psychiatric symptoms to their underlying neural mechanisms. Thus we will be able to make more precise diagnoses and develop therapies that directly target the biological mechanisms underlying mental disorders.’

The President of the ERC, Professor Jean-Pierre Bourguignon, commented: 'It is inspiring to see both the quality and ambition of the projects submitted by the distinguished researchers to whom these grants have been awarded. The ERC was given the task to support cutting-edge and risky research to allow scientists to push the frontiers of knowledge. I look forward to seeing what breakthroughs and major advances will come out of these projects whose main driver was scientific curiosity.'

The funding, worth €647 million in total, has been awarded under the ‘excellent science' pillar of Horizon 2020, the EU's research and innovation programme. Professor Schumann was awarded €3.4 million for his project.

The research projects proposed by the new grantees cover wide range of topics from physical sciences and engineering, life sciences, and social sciences and humanities.