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07 May 2024

A Geneticist's Guide to the Galaxy of Mental Health: Professor Gerome Breen delivers his inaugural lecture

On Wednesday 24 April 2024, Gerome Breen delivered his inaugural lecture as Professor of Psychiatric Genetics at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN).

Gerome Breen inaugural 2024

Derived from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Professor Breen’s lecture “A Geneticist’s Guide to the Galaxy of Mental Health” explored his journey from farming and working in his father’s butcher shop, to becoming Professor of Psychiatric Genetics at King’s College London.

Thalia Eley, Professor of Developmental Behavioural Genetics at the IoPPN, opened the evening commending Professor Breen’s intelligence, dedication and charisma.

Professor Breen first joined the IoPPN in 2002 and the Social, Genetic & Developmental Psychiatry Centre shortly after. Since then, he has led multiple projects investigating the genetics underlying anxiety, depression and eating disorders.

We began to have access to technologies that allowed us to look at the whole genome and individual genetic variants. This methodology has been highly successful right across medicine and behaviour. Its discovery is advancing our understanding of the biology [of depression] and our ability to make predictions. But we need to enable studies that integrate these new discoveries alongside environmental risk factors and the development of new therapies.

Professor Gerome Breen

Professor Breen leads the Genetic Links to Anxiety and Depression (GLAD) study with Professor Thalia Eley which is the largest anxiety and depression project ever undertaken. They have collected psychological, medical and genetic information from over 30,000 participants to date to better understand the role that both genes and environment play in the development of anxiety and depression.

Collaborating in the UK, Nigeria, Malawi, Ethiopia and South Africa, he is now using the learnings from GLAD to help establish a network of psychiatric genetics researchers studying depression within Africa through the Depression Genetics in Africa (DepGenAfrica) project.

Professor Breen is also Scientific Lead for the UK’s largest research project on eating disorders, the UK Eating Disorders Genetics Initiative (EDGI UK). Similarly to GLAD, researchers aim to better understand the genetic and environmental links to eating disorders and help develop better treatments.

In his lecture, Professor Breen shared his new initiative, the Eating Disorders Clinical Research Network (EDCRN) at King’s which he leads with Dr Karina Allen. The EDCRN aims to establish a UK-wide NHS research network spanning child and adult eating disorder services to improve eating disorder research.

He also leads King’s Genomics, a new state-of-the-art facility which offers a range of genomics services to the King's community and beyond, from basic sample handling and biobanking, through to whole genome sequencing and bioinformatics.

Robert Plomin, Professor of Behavioural Genetics at the IoPPN, concluded the evening with the Vote of Thanks: “For the past two decades Gerome has been a major contributor to ‘the geneticists' guide to the galaxy of mental health’. We’ve heard this afternoon about his work in schizophrenia, depression, bipolar, cocaine abuse, anxiety and eating disorders... [The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy] addresses how to see beyond our own little world, how to make the most of what’s around us and how to have fun while we do it. As you have seen in his talk this afternoon, Gerome is leading the way.”

Watch the full lecture below:

To view previous lectures and to find out about upcoming lectures in the Inaugural Lectures series, please visit Inaugural Lectures

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Gerome Breen

Professor of Psychiatric Genetics