A prestigious honor given only every other year by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II has been awarded to Cardiff University’s MRC Centre for Neuropsychiatric Genetics and Genomics. The Queen’s Anniversary Prize acknowledges the Centre for achieving outstanding “transformative insights into causes, diagnosis and treatment of mental illness.” The award grew out of the 40th anniversary celebration of Her Majesty’s reign on the throne in 1992
. Funds that had been raised through private donations to a charitable trust were used for that year-long program. At its conclusion, the Queen requested that Parliament use the remaining funds for awards that recognized outstanding achievement in the UK’s Higher and Further Education area.
The mission of the Cardiff Center is to investigate the causes and develop treatments for a variety of psychiatric and neurological disorders. The center opened in 2009 and has made a several significant contributions towards understanding and treating diseases like Alzheimer’s, AD/HD, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
A study conducted by Professor Sir Michael Owen at Cardiff was the first to identify a genetic link between autism, intellectual disabilities and schizophrenia. His paper “Intellectual disability and major psychiatric disorders: a continuum of neurodevelopmental causality
” was published in the British Journal of Psychiatry in April of 2012 and is cited often as a landmark of research into the genetic links between certain brain disorders and neurological conditions.
In 2013 an international collaboration of scientists, jointly led by Cardiff discovered 11 new susceptibility genes linked with Alzheimer's disease
. Cardiff Professor Julie Williams was the lead the Cardiff team in that study which was groundbreaking for it’s detailed evaluation of 11 new regions of the genome responsible for the onset of Alzheimer’s.
The Centre was also part of a global consortium, Psychiatric Genomics Consortium, that published a paper that uncovered schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depression all share genetic risk factors related to immune function and DNA regulation. This was the first such study published
that found a biological mechanism for these disorders.
For example, their research has provided strong evidence that cannabis is one of the few modifiable risk factors in the prevention of schizophrenia; has led to a novel interactive programme to help sufferers of bipolar disorder manage their condition; and has effected a step change in the way homeless young people in Wales are assessed for mental health disorders.
In a press release
from the Centre, Director Professor Sir Michael Owen said, “I am extremely proud of all the staff in the Centre for winning this award. It is a reflection of the amazing achievements made possible by an excellent team of scientific, technical and administrative staff which sits at the forefront of mental health research. Their efforts have succeeded in casting light into some of the darkest corners of mental illness and place us in strong position to make further advances that will lead to substantial benefit to patients.”
The award will be officially presented to Cardiff University representatives and staff from the Centre for Neuropsychiatric Genetics and Genomics by Her Majesty at a ceremony at Buckingham Palace in February of 2016. Take a look at the video below to see more about Cardiff University and their selection for this honor.