New St Andrews-Bonn cross-disciplinary research project launches

Harriet Sheridan
Monday 19 July 2021

New computational methods to dissect complex disorders

Mental disorders are common in the population, accounting for more than 10% of the global burden of disease. They span a wide range of disorders and include developmental disorders such as dyslexia (reading and spelling disorder), autism and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), as well as psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression. All of these disorders have a significant underlying genetic component. In recent years, international consortia have succeeded in pooling and jointly analysing genetic data from many patients. This has led to the identification of a steadily growing number of genetic risk factors. The next step is to translate this growing amount of data into information that can improve the treatment and management of mental disorders in the future.

Scientists from the University of St Andrews and the University of Bonn have now joined forces, supported by a St Andrews-Bonn Collaborative Research Grant, to address this challenge with new computational methods. Building on the particular scientific expertise in St Andrews (e.g. genomics, bioinformatics and machine learning) and Bonn (e.g. genomics, psychiatry and brain imaging), this collaboration aims to establish a new collaborative platform.

Dr Silvia Paracchini (School of Medicine, PI on the project) emphasises that:

“new machine learning methods coupled with increased computational capacity have offered the opportunity to extract information from a multilayer of complex data.”

Prof. Markus Nöthen (Director of the Institute of Human Genetics at the University Hospital Bonn) notes:

“This platform has the potential to be adapted to a wide range of human diseases.”

Research teams based at the Schools of Medicine, Mathematics & Statistics and Computer Science will contribute to this cross-disciplinary collaboration. Canon Medical Research Europe is also involved in the initiative, contributing expertise in clinical imaging. Given the strong focus on training early career researchers, the St Andrews Graduate School for Interdisciplinary Studies will facilitate potential cross-institutional exchanges for post-graduate students.

The project was launched at the beginning of June, and the next appointment will be the first St Andrews/Bonn Machine Learning/Genomic meeting.

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