The Oxford Health Biomedical Research Centre (Oxford Health BRC) is embarking on a new chapter of innovation in brain health following the award of £35.4m in funding by the NIHR in October 2022.
Our vision is to make a giant leap forward in the treatment and prevention of mental illness and dementia. Oxford Health BRC aims to make a major contribution to the development of a new generation of effective treatments and therapies for people with these brain disorders, transforming the lives of millions of people around the world.
Already established as a centre of excellence for brain health science, Oxford Health BRC is set to deliver more ground-breaking innovation over a five-year period. Building on breakthroughs in brain science and diagnostic tools, tests of patient biomarkers will enable clinicians to make early and accurate diagnosis of mental illnesses, replacing diagnosis by symptoms alone. New personalised treatments will take into account a patient’s genes, environment and lifestyle. Together these developments will revolutionise the care of people with mental and cognitive disorders, which has lagged behind progress in physical health care.
Our approach will apply the best multidisciplinary science to brain health, using the same ground-breaking research approaches applied in these other fields of medicine. As well as exploiting recent advances in the understanding of biomedical and psychological disease mechanisms, we will apply digital, artificial intelligence and engineering innovations to develop new therapies. The need for progress could not be greater. One in six people in England experience a mental health problem every week and wider economic costs are estimated at £105 billion a year. With 970 million people worldwide living with a mental disorder, these cost-effective new interventions will be made scalable to developing countries.
The BRC, one of only two centres in the country wholly dedicated to mental health, secured funding for 11 themes of research, with new priorities. One of these, treating chronic pain, crosses into physical health. Other new themes include sleep, children and young people’s mental health and the treatment of comorbid conditions. Another will develop new approaches to support wellbeing and flourishing at a population level.
This wide-ranging agenda will be achieved by collaborating with our 11 academic and NHS partners, a network of brain health centres across England. The aim is to integrate research infrastructure and clinical services to deliver innovation in mental, cognitive and brain health research and care.
There will be a strong focus on ethnicity and diversity including addressing ethnic inequalities in severe mental illnesses. Strong public and patient involvement and engagement will underpin all our work and we aim to increase patient participation in research.
Our goals are to:
1. Bring the best multidisciplinary science, researchers and PPIEP to brain health
2. Add scale, power, diversity and impact by involving national partners alongside international collaborations
3. Exploit our inter-theme collaborations and expertise to tackle the most pressing questions
4. Transform our excellent science into new treatments and diagnostic tools
The BRC and partners will focus on 11 themes, five of which are new, six build on work from the BRC’s foundation in 2017. They are each led by the BRC or our partners.
- Better sleep
Exploiting new sleep science to develop innovations to improve sleep in mental health patients
- Brain technologies
Deliver new brain imaging and other technologies for treating psychological, psychiatric and brain disorders
- Data science
Developing tools for clinicians which use patients’ clinical information in conjunction with the latest research to personalise their care
Prevent or delay the onset of cognitive decline by improving the use of biomarkers to detect the early signs of disease before dementia develops
- Depression therapeutics
Use human neurocognitive models to identify and develop new treatments for depression
- Flourishing and wellbeing
Enable flourishing initiatives and interventions for patients and non-patients in spaces beyond the clinic
- Mental health in development
Develop interventions that meet the needs of diverse children and young people
- Molecular targets
Create a pipeline to translate and back-translate between discovery neuroscience and the clinic to identify and test new therapeutic targets
Identify chronic pain brain-based mechanisms and develop better treatments
- Preventing multiple morbidities in whole and high-risk populations
Improve population health and reduce inequalities by developing interventions to prevent non-communicable disease and individual interventions for people with mental illness at greatest need
- Psychological treatments
Develop new interventions that target psychological mechanisms
What our partners say
University of Birmingham
Professor Matthew Broome, Director of the Institute for Mental Health and Professor of Psychiatry and Youth Mental Health said, “We are delighted that the University of Birmingham, and the city’s Mental Health Trusts, Birmingham Women’s and Children’s NHS Foundation Trust and Birmingham and Solihull NHS Foundation Trust, are key partners in the Oxford Health BRC. Birmingham is a young and diverse city with high levels of deprivation and mental health morbidity. This important investment will support discovery science in emerging and established mental illness, offer our population the benefits of new therapeutic advances for depression and psychosis, and lead the development of a clinical data analysis pipeline for new brain imaging technologies. This collective expertise will help improve our mechanistic understanding of health and illness, and will prioritise the experiences of young people throughout, working closely with them and their communities to support their flourishing and wellbeing.”
Birmingham Women’s and Children’s NHS Foundation Trust
Professor Rachel Upthegrove, Professor of Psychiatry and Youth Mental Health and Consultant Psychiatrist said: “This is excellent news for young people and the mental health services in Birmingham and Solihull that support them including Birmingham Women’s and Children’s NHS Foundation Trust, a key partner in the Oxford Health BRC.
“We are conducting important cutting-edge mental health research, through our nationally unique Forward Thinking Birmingham youth mental health partnership. This includes our internationally leading Early Intervention in Psychosis service that has been pioneering treatment for early stages of psychosis for many years. This new investment will further help turn exciting research into new, better targeted treatments for young people.”
Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust
Professor Alex Copello, Associate Director for Research and Dr Fabida Aria, Executive Medical Director, said: “Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust has a history of leading new developments and services in the field of mental health and are thrilled to be part of the extended Oxford BRC (Biomedical Research Centre). This collaborative partnership will allow our trust to further our work in mood disorders (depression) research, integrating new technologies and treatments to provide our patients with the best evidence based clinical care. We are delighted to be part of this important initiative”
University of Sheffield and Sheffield Health and Social Care NHS Foundation Trust
Dr Mike Hunter, Medical Director, Sheffield Health and Social Care NHS Foundation Trust said: “I’m delighted that this important research into mental health has been supported, and we’re really pleased to be partnering with the University of Oxford. The breadth of themes to be studied over the next five years speaks to the significant scope of the work. Here at SHSC, we are looking forward to seeing the benefits to service users, carers and staff first hand.”
Professor Scott Weich, Professor of Mental Health at the School of Health and Related Research, University of Sheffield, said: “We’re excited to be working with colleagues from Oxford and elsewhere to develop new and innovative ways of helping those living with serious mental illness. This has come about through close partnership working between University and Trust and provides us with a great opportunity to develop new treatments where they are most needed.”
University of Reading
Professor Stella Chan said: “We are absolutely delighted to hear that the Oxford Health BRC has received funding from the NIHR to continue our work. It is in this transformational, interdisciplinary space that research findings evolve into treatments and patients benefit. Mental ill health is a growing issue in the UK.
“Alongside our unique research-led Anxiety and Depression in Young People Clinic, Charlie Waller Institute, and Reading Resilience Network, we hope to further the reach and accelerate impact of the work of the Oxford Health BRC, through our expertise and networks across NHS and third sector services.”
Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust
Kate Penhaligon, Head of Research and Development, said: “Berkshire Healthcare is excited to collaborate with Oxford and the University of Reading in realising the vision of the BRC. As a global Digital Exemplar we are thrilled to contribute to innovative research that will improve patient outcomes.”
University of Surrey
Professor Paul Townsend, Pro- Vice Chancellor and Executive Dean of the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, said: “I am extremely proud of our involvement in this partnership, which will showcase the strength of our Surrey research in brain disorders, maths, sleep and circadian rhythms. Collaboration amongst the research community is key to improving our future health, and I look forward to seeing the results from this innovative partnership.”
University of Brighton
Professor Angie Hart, Director of the Centre of Resilience for Social Justice, at University of Brighton, said: ‘What a wonderful opportunity to collaborate with great scholars and community experts on research related to complex mental health problems. Finding creative ways to support people facing the most complex challenges in life to flourish is what our team are most excited about. The Social Enterprise Boingboing is part of our team. Their community-based researchers have lived experience of complex life challenges so are the ideal people to work alongside academics as co-researchers.”
University of Liverpool
Professor Iain Buchan, Associate Pro Vice Chancellor for Innovation at the University of Liverpool, said “The University of Liverpool is pleased to partner with Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust in providing the NIHR Oxford Brain Health Biomedical Research Centre with a ‘Connected Mental Health’ innovation system, focusing population health, data, neuro and behavioural sciences on large-scale mechanistic research and early-stage trials, grounded in the connections of service-users to their communities and care-settings.” and added “The University will also align other research to enrich brain health discovery science, including the a new birth cohort study, Children Growing Up in Liverpool, supported by the Wellcome Trust, which will investigate the effects of bio-psycho-social adversity on child development, including mental health, in a city where 28% of children are born into poverty.”
Oxford Brookes University
Professor Eila Watson, Deputy Director, Oxford Institute of Nursing, Midwifery and Allied Health Research, said: “We are delighted to be a partner in this award which provides a really fantastic opportunity to develop innovative new approaches to care for mental and brain health, and to improve psychological wellbeing. The award will facilitate strengthening of multi-disciplinary partnerships between the Trusts and Universities, and will also play a vital role in the continuing expansion of research capacity and capability.”