Mental health: treating molecule and mind together

Pigeon-holing mental illness as ‘psychiatric’ means patients receive inadequate treatment. We want to change that.

Mental health: treating molecule and mind together

Cambridge has made a definitive contribution to our understanding of the brain. Discoveries such as the neuron and the transmission of nerve impulses have led to the award of eight Nobel Prizes for our work in this field.

However, after 100 years of trying, scientists still don’t understand what mental illness really ‘is’ – we don’t know how and why brain activity produces its symptoms. For too long, conditions such as bi-polar disorder, anxiety and schizophrenia have been pigeon-holed as ‘psychiatric’. This has led to doctors and researchers neglecting to engage deeply with their fundamental biological causes.

  • Two women walking in the countryside
    Mental health is often misunderstood and can affect anyone

Transforming treatment

Cambridge has begun breaking down the barriers between neuroscience and the study of mental health, and the results are already promising. In one recent project, researchers led by Professor Barbara Sahakian developed an Apple iPad game to treat the damage to patients’ cognitive functions in schizophrenia.

The game, 'Wizard', was the result of a nine-month collaboration between psychologists, neuroscientists, a professional game-developer and people with schizophrenia. “We need a way of treating the cognitive symptoms of schizophrenia, such as problems with episodic memory, but slow progress is being made towards developing a drug treatment. So this study is important because it demonstrates that the memory game can help where drugs have so far failed”, Professor Sahakian explains.

This study is important because it demonstrates that [a] memory game can help where drugs have so far failed.

Professor Barbara Sahakian

Uniting psychiatric and neurological expertise

This is one example of why we must unite our psychiatric and neurological expertise, and remove the outdated barriers between them. We will seek to understand and develop new treatments for all brain disorders together – from molecule to mind.

Recent studies have shown that the gene most often associated with schizophrenia is not in the brain, but in the immune system. And so another barrier that a new cross-cutting programme of research in neuroscience and mental health will break down is that between the brain and the body.

This work will build on the development of Campath 1-H, a transformational treatment for multiple sclerosis developed at Cambridge that works by targeting the immune system. As one of our top priorities in this fundraising campaign, we have a bold plan to develop research in neuroscience and mental health. To discuss making a major gift to this bold project, please get in touch.

Next steps

Angela Wimmer

Senior Associate Director - Biological Sciences

angela.wimmer@admin.cam.ac.uk

+44 (0)1223 339979

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