Brain and Mind Centre wins Wellcome Mental Health Award

6 December 2023
BMC awarded Wellcome trust grant for mental health research.
A multidisciplinary team led by the Brain and Mind Centre at the University of Sydney has been awarded a $5.4M trust grant to fund their research into youth-onset mood disorders called circadian depression.

Professor Ian Hickie.

An international team led by Professor Ian Hickie at the Brain and Mind Centre will research whether circadian rhythm (24-hour body clock) dysregulation is the true underlying cause of many major depressive and other mood disorders, and how we can accurately measure these disturbances in blood.

Sleep and circadian rhythm disturbances are a common feature of mood disorders in young people.

A new $5.4M Wellcome Mental Health Award will enable the team to test the hypothesis is that these disturbances are the underlying cause or mechanism of some people’s mental health condition.  

The grant recipients state: “A “one-size-fits-all” approach to youth-onset mood disorders does not work. New ways of thinking, and new models of treatment, are needed urgently.

“Sleep and circadian rhythm disturbances (SCRDs) are core features of mood disorders, but we argue they are much more than symptoms - we propose that dysfunction of sleep and circadian systems could be the cause for some youth-onset mood and atypical psychotic disorders. In this program we will test this hypothesis in a series of studies that focus on individual pieces of this puzzle.

“We will explore the potential genetic factors that link sleep and circadian rhythm disturbances and mood disorders. We will test whether new technologies can accurately measure sleep and circadian rhythm disturbances in blood.

“Our research will follow a large group of young people in the early stages of mood disorders to see how the relationships between sleep and circadian rhythms and features of mood disorders unfold over time, and whether they might cause one another. We will test whether a safe treatment that changes circadian rhythms (oral melatonin) can improve symptoms of depression.

“As part of our research we will build a computer program that combines these different types of information into a resource that people can use to learn about mood disorders and sleep and circadian rhythms and gain new insights into future questions for scientists to investigate.”

Professor Ian Hickie said: “This grant is not only international recognition of the significance and quality of our work but also provides us with the necessary support to test our central idea – namely, that circadian rhythm (24-hour body clock) dysregulation is the true underlying cause of many major depressive and other mood disorders. If so, it confirms that the body clock should be a central target of new biomedical and behavioural treatments for those severe mood disorders that start during the teenage years.”

The team consists of researchers from the Brain and Mind Centre at University of Sydney, Newcastle University (UK), National Institute of Mental Health (U.S.A), University of Queensland, Queensland Institute of Medical Research, and Monash University.

Wellcome is a global charitable foundation that supports science to solve the urgent health issues  facing everyone, such as mental health. Wellcome aims to develop new and improved early interventions for anxiety, depression and psychosis, in ways that reflect the priorities and needs of people experiencing these conditions. This work involves increasing scientific understanding of how brain, body and environment interact in the development and resolution of these problems.  

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