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Bristol Neuroscience awarded £6.5 million to nurture mental health by keeping young brains on track

Press release issued: 12 May 2022

We need to look after young brains: threats including early life adversity, sleep disruption, drug addiction and genetic mutations can all challenge brain development and lifelong mental health. Thanks to funding of over £6.5 million for new brain research, neuroscientists at the University of Bristol hope to alleviate these threats and their burden on patients, carers, clinicians and society.

 Professor Matt Jones, Director of Bristol Neuroscience said: “Mental Health Awareness Week is a timely reminder that Bristol Neuroscience is about brain research for better lives, making brain biology matter to society and working together to improve mental health diagnosis and treatment for all.

“These new projects cover every level, from the molecules of our genetic code, to sleep hygiene and drug addiction. Only teams of neuroscientists working on this scale are able to link these levels, helping every brain navigate modern life and stay mentally healthy and happy.”

Dr Mike Ashby, Senior Lecturer in the School of Physiology, Pharmacology and Neuroscience (PPN) has led Bristol’s contributions to the new Medical Research Council (MRC) National Mouse Genetics Network. Bristol has partnered with Cardiff University, King's College London and the Universities of Lancaster, Leeds and Oxford to form the MURIDAE (Modalities for Understanding, Recording and Integrating Data Across Early life) cluster, which has been awarded £2.7 million to unravel mechanisms of early brain development using mouse models of neurodevelopmental disorders.

Sleep disruption is a common early life adversity, particularly for adolescents.  Sleep helps nurture healthy brain development, so sleep disruption may be particularly damaging to the brains of young people, and often precedes the onset of disorders including anxiety and depression.

Esther Crawley, Professor of Child Health in Bristol Medical School, will lead a team of epidemiologists, psychologists, sociologists and engineers on a pioneering project, called  ‘Sleep Tracking and Treatment for Adolescent Mental health Problems (STTAMP)’.

The team will use smartphone apps to detect and treat insomnia before it takes root, setting young people back on track and avoiding long-term mental health problems. The £1 million programme will be funded predominantly by The Prudence Trust, with additional University of Bristol funding for a clinical PhD.

It is widely known that many mental health disorders are linked to genetic variation. Professor Matt Jones has teamed up with collaborators at Cardiff University and University College London (UCL), who have been awarded a £2 million MRC grant to study young people at high genetic risk of schizophrenia.

The research programme will combine computational analyses of brain activity in adolescents, in mouse genetic models and in patient-derived neurons to uncover the mechanisms linking genetic mutations to brain function, paving the way for more precise treatments in psychiatry.

Finally, Dr Ana Abdala Sheikh, Senior Lecturer in PPN and Graeme Henderson,  Professor of Pharmacology, along with colleagues Dr Jo Kesten and Professor Matt Hickman in Bristol’s Population Health Sciences and Dr Chris Bailey from the Department of Pharmacy and Pharmacology at the University of Bath, have also been awarded a £1 million MRC grant to study the lethal interactions between benzodiazepines and opioids.

The multidisciplinary research will combine interviewing patients with experimental laboratory studies to help reduce the risk of overdose deaths in opioid users.

Further information

About Bristol Neuroscience
Bristol Neuroscience (BN) is supported by the Elizabeth Blackwell Institute for Health Research, one of the University of Bristol’s four University Research Institutes

Neuroscience is a highly dynamic field of research; BN constantly evolves in response to the changing needs and developments of the neuroscience community it serves.

BN was founded by the University of Bristol in 2003 to ensure that all neuroscientists in Bristol could benefit from the wide cross-disciplinary expertise and facilities in the University and its partner hospitals.

BN has since become a model for other cities across the UK; sister 'City Neuroscience' schemes now exist at Cambridge, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Oxford, UCL - and beyond.

About the Elizabeth Blackwell Institute
Nurturing research. Improving health.

The Elizabeth Blackwell Institute drives innovation in research to improve health for all. It nurtures interdisciplinary research to address the complex health challenges facing us today.

The institute focuses on:

  • Supporting the next generation of health researchers
  • Connecting people to develop interdisciplinary research
  • Including everyone in research so the research can benefit all.
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