A new London-based mental health research charity hopes to become as influential in the United Kingdom as the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation is in the United States.
September 26, 2013, was a happy day for Joshua Roffman, M.D., an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.
A new mental health research philanthropy in the United Kingdom called “MQ,” announced that Roffman was one of three winners of its first MQ Fellows awards. The others were Susanne Ahmari, M.D., Ph.D., of the University of Pittsburgh, and Bronwyn Graham, Ph.D., of the University of New South Wales in Australia.
The 2013 fellows were selected from a highly competitive international group of more than 100 applicants from more than 15 countries. Each winner will receive funding for a total of 225,000 British pounds (approximately $362,250), divided into three annual payments, to conduct what is expected to be groundbreaking research into the causes, treatments, and prevention of mental illnesses.
Joshua Roffman, M.D., believes that the MQ initiative “could be a game-changing force for psychiatric research.”
Ahmari will be using optogenetics to explore how brain cells interact to cause the repetitive behaviors of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Graham will study whether hormones help explain why women are more susceptible to anxiety disorders than men are. Roffman previously found that some people with schizophrenia have trouble processing folic acid and that this difficulty is related to the negative symptoms of schizophrenia. His research will investigate the impact of folic-acid supplementation on individuals with schizophrenia.
“It’s a great honor to be the recipient of one of the first MQ Fellows awards,” Roffman told Psychiatric News. “I’m very excited to start my project, which I hope will constitute an important step forward in developing folic-acid-based early interventions for schizophrenia. I also feel fortunate in joining the MQ community, which could be a game-changing force for psychiatric research. At a time when transformative advances seem just around the corner, research remains vastly underfunded relative to the burden that psychiatric disorders impose. I’m excited about the opportunity that MQ provides, not just to catalyze the science, but to elevate the conversation on a global level.”
The project’s CEO, Cynthia Joyce, explained in an interview that its name, MQ, reflects the goal of investing in research that will improve mental health “quality of life,” adding that she hopes that in the near future, “when we say ‘MQ,’ people will automatically understand that that means the charity for mental health research.”
The vision for MQ arose when a major figure in U.K. philanthropy, Lord Dennis Stevenson, and Sir Mark Walport, then director of the Wellcome Trust, discovered that they shared a passion for advancing mental health research. In 2009, they began discussing how they could facilitate the establishment of a mental health research charity similar to Cancer Research UK, and they ultimately decided to get directly involved themselves. Stevenson signed on as chair, and the Wellcome Trust pledged 20 million pounds in startup money.
“That is an extraordinary gift, that is a lot of money,” Joyce declared. “But there was a firm belief that it is an extraordinary time in science and that we should be able to do something really powerful with it.”
MQ’s Board of Trustees includes Philip Campbell, Ph.D., editor-in-chief of the scientific journal Nature; Christopher Fairburn, M.D., a professor of psychiatry at Oxford University; and Richard Morris, Ph.D., a professor of neuroscience at the University of Edinburgh.
“Our charge is to become a successful public charity,” Joyce explained. “We hope to become a recognizable brand name that people will trust—and trust not only to give their money to, but to deliver research that is going to make a difference to their health. . . . We hope to become as beloved in the U.K. as the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation is in the United States.” In about five years, she said, “we would like to be funding tens of millions of dollars of research…. We want to take advantage of some of the advances in neuroscience, psychology, and medical research that could help make people’s lives better.”
She noted that MQ will be posting information on how to apply for a 2014 MQ Fellowship on its Web site in January, and additional projects that the group funds will also be announced on the Web site.
“The fields of psychiatric medicine, mental health care, and neuroscience enthusiastically welcome the arrival of the mental health charity MQ,” Jeffrey Lieberman, M.D., president of APA and chair of psychiatry at Columbia University, said in an interview. The MQ organization “provides a much needed additional source of funding for research into the causes of and treatments for mental illness. This needed signal of increased interest in mental illness charitable giving will help redress the historic underfunding of brain disorders manifest by disturbances in mental functions and behavior. Mental health providers and researchers welcome MQ to our cause and look forward to working with them toward our common goal of reducing the burden of mental illness on the world’s population.” ■
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