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10 May 2023

IoPPN researchers awarded Wellcome funding for mental health research

Around £8 million Wellcome funding has been awarded to research programmes at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) for mental health research.

Brains made out of trees

Two programmes led by IoPPN principal investigators Professor Cathryn Lewis and Dr Daniel Michelson, and one programme involving co-investigator Dr Tom Pollak, received Wellcome Mental Health Awards. The awards sit under the umbrella of Wellcome’s new Mental Health Challenge programme.

Professor Cathryn Lewis

Professor Cathryn Lewis’ programme ‘Understanding the causal mechanisms of antidepressant exposure and response’ has been awarded £4.7 million. The programme aims to gain insights into the ‘active ingredients’ of anti-depressants and infer how these drugs can better be used as effective interventions in depression. Using genomic, informatic and cellular studies, the international team will deliver data on real-world antidepressant exposure and response to better understand how antidepressants work and why individuals vary in their response. The mechanistic insights will pave the way for clinical predictors of antidepressant action, moving towards personalised psychiatry. 

Receiving this award is an exciting opportunity to increase our knowledge of antidepressant drug mechanisms. Antidepressants are widely prescribed, but we have little understanding of why some people respond and others do not, and we know little about how antidepressants impact molecules and cells. Using large international datasets, and working with people with lived experience, we aim to fill some of this knowledge vacuum.

Professor Cathryn Lewis, Professor of Genetic Epidemiology and Statistics at King's IoPPN

Cathryn Lewis is a Professor of Genetic Epidemiology and Statistics and Head of Department at the Social, Genetic & Developmental Psychiatry (SGDP) Centre. Her interdisciplinary research group investigates genetic variants that underpin risk of depression and control response to antidepressant treatment. She is deputy theme lead in the NIHR Maudsley Biomedical Research Centre and co-chairs the PGC Major Depressive disorder working group. 

IoPPN Research Fellow, Dr Oliver Pain, will work with Professor Lewis on the programme alongside researchers from the University of Edinburgh and the University of Queensland.

Dr Daniel Michelson

Dr Daniel Michelson has been awarded £2.45 million to undertake a ‘Mechanistic trial of problem-solving and behavioural activation for youth depression’ (METROPOLIS). This programme will investigate the effectiveness and mechanisms of brief, first-line psychotherapies to reduce symptoms of depression among disadvantaged university students in New Delhi, incorporating an innovative peer-to-peer counselling approach.

I’m delighted to receive this award on behalf of an outstanding international team. The funding will enable us to conduct one of the largest-ever mental health intervention trials for young people in India, which is home to 20% of all 18-24-year-olds worldwide. Scalable early interventions are urgently needed during this key developmental period when many mental health problems first occur. University settings pose unique challenges and stresses, especially for ‘first-generation’ learners who make up a significant part of the student population across India. Young people with relevant lived experience will be front and centre in the leadership and delivery of the programme, including a variety of youth-led activities to engage students from marginalised groups.

Dr Daniel Michelson, Clinical Senior Lecturer at King's IoPPN and Honorary Consultant Clinical Psychologist at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust

Dr Michelson is a Clinical Senior Lecturer in the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the IoPPN. The new Award builds on Dr Michelson’s experience as Clinical Academic Director for the ‘Premium for Adolescents’ school mental health programme in India, also funded by Wellcome (2016-22). Dr Michelson additionally works on developing and evaluating psychosocial interventions for under-served children, young people and families in the UK and is an Honorary Consultant Clinical Psychologist at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust.

Daniel Stahl, Professor of Medical Statistics and Statistical Learning at the IoPPN, will work with Dr Michelson on the programme alongside co-investigators from Sangath, India’s leading mental health research non-governmental organisation; O.P. Jindal Global University, a top-ranked research-intensive university in New Delhi; Youth for Mental Health, a youth-led social enterprise focused on student mental health in India; and Brighton and Sussex Medical School. Dr Michelson’s team is supported by a wider group of international collaborators from the USA (Harvard Medical School, Loma Linda University & UCLA) and India (the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences).

Dr Tom Pollak

Dr Tom Pollak is a co-investigator on the programme ‘Immune mechanisms of antipsychotic treatment response’ which has been awarded £5 million total with £1.38 million awarded to King’s. The programme will be led by principal investigator, Dr Katharina Schmack, from the Francis Crick Institute. Researchers will use immunophenotyping - a technique that allows an in-depth characterisation of all the immune cells in the blood - backed up by machine learning analyses to investigate how antipsychotic medications might reduce symptoms of psychosis via effects on the immune system. 

I am thrilled to be leading the clinical arm of this ambitious, eight-year study. COVID helped catalyse exciting advances in immunophenotyping at King’s and the Crick, allowing us to examine the immune systems of more patients and in greater detail than ever before. Now, with the generous support of Wellcome, we will combine these powerful methodologies with cutting-edge computational psychiatry and neuroimmunology tools to ask: what really happens when we treat distressing psychotic symptoms and how can we make our treatments better?

Dr Tom Pollak, NIHR Clinical Lecturer at King's IoPPN and Consultant Neuropsychiatrist at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust

Dr Pollak is an NIHR Clinical Lecturer at the IoPPN and Consultant Neuropsychiatrist at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust. His research and clinical interests lie within neuropsychiatry, focusing on the neurology and immunology of psychiatric disease, including psychosis.

Professor Adrian Hayday from the Faculty of Life Sciences and Medicine at King’s and the Francis Crick Institute and Dr Thomas Kabir from the McPin Foundation will also work on the programme.

The three grants are funded under the Wellcome ’Looking Backwards, Moving Forward: understanding how interventions for anxiety, depression, and psychosis work’ grant scheme which is part of their new strategic focus on mental health as a key global health challenge. This call focuses on investigating the causal mechanisms underpinning the ‘active ingredients’ of effective interventions for anxiety, depression and psychosis. Active ingredients are those that drive resolution or reduction of symptoms, are well-defined and link to specific hypothesised mechanisms of action. Wellcome have awarded more than £47 million to research teams to investigate what makes interventions for anxiety, depression and psychosis effective.

For more information, please contact Amelia Remmington (Communications & Engagement Officer).

In this story

Thomas Pollak

Senior Clinical Lecturer and Consultant Neuropsychiatrist

Cathryn Lewis

Professor of Genetic Epidemiology & Statistics

Daniel Michelson

Clinical Senior Lecturer