Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland Coláiste Ríoga na Máinleá in Éirinn

RCSI investigators involved in global collaboration helping to answer fundamental mental health questions

09 July 2018

Four RCSI investigators have participated in a landmark mental health study which has been published in Science. The study, ‘Analysis of shared heritability in common disorders of the brain', found that psychiatric disorders share an unexpected degree of common genetic risk.

Dr Mark McCormack and Dr Christopher Whelan (Molecular & Cellular Therapeutics) and Professors Kieran Murphy (Psychiatry) and John Waddington (Emeritus, Molecular & Cellular Therapeutics) participated in this collaborative research project under the auspices of the Brainstorm Consortium.

The research involves genetic data assembled globally from 265,218 patients having one of 25 neuropsychiatric disorders and 784,643 control participants, together with 1,191,588 individuals having 17 other, potentially relevant characteristics.

The study reveals the importance of common genetic variation as a risk factor across psychiatric disorders. For example, genes associated with risk for schizophrenia are also associated, to varying extents, with significant risk for bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and anorexia nervosa; in contrast, neurological disorders such as epilepsy, stroke, Parkinson's disease, migraine and multiple sclerosis appear more genetically distinct.

Commenting on the publication of this study, Professor Janusz Jankowski, Deputy Vice Chancellor, RCSI, said: “Research in neurology and psychiatry is a core pillar of RCSI’s research strategy for the next four years. With a focus on clinical and patient-centred research, RCSI is committed to leading impactful research which addresses key Irish and international health challenges. By bringing together specialists from many areas, collaboration in research, as exemplified in this study, is what will drive scientific breakthroughs that will ultimately enhance patient treatment and care.”

RCSI is ranked among the top 250 (top 2%) of universities worldwide in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings (2018) and its research is ranked first in Ireland for citations. It is an international not-for-profit health sciences institution, with its headquarters in Dublin, focused on education and research to drive improvements in human health worldwide. RCSI is a signatory of the Athena SWAN.