Three researchers – Professor David Cotter and Professor Mary Cannon of Royal College of Surgeons Ireland (RCSI) and Professor Ian Kelleher of University College Dublin (UCD) – have secured funding as partners in the Horizon Europe Health project ‘Youth-GEMs: Gene Environment interactions in Mental health trajectories of Youth’, which aims to significantly reduce mental suffering and illness among European youth.

Led by Dutch partner Maastricht University, the project has received €9.7 million in EU funding overall, with around €1.1 million going to the three Irish partners. A total of 18 partners will be involved in the research, from 10 countries: the Netherlands, Ireland, UK, Italy, Spain, Australia, Germany, Estonia, Croatia, and Serbia.

The project aims to provide the world’s first evidence-based knowledge base of functional (epi)genomics of the developing post-natal human brain in direct relation to developmental trajectories of trans-syndromal phenotypes of mental illness, providing improved risk markers and actionable biological targets.

It aims to provide reliable predictive models, while identifying gene-environment interplay, as well as actionable markers of trajectories of mental (ill-)health in young people. To do this, the researchers will use artificial intelligence (AI)-based and inference-based analyses of unprecedented sets of longitudinal general population datasets. They will also create the first comprehensive, validated set of evidence-based behavioural, environmental, biological, and psychological-informed instruments for the robust quantitative clinical assessment of mental health for help-seeking young people aged 12-24 years, harmonised across European clinical settings, and youth- and clinician-empowering AI-driven instruments for early (self-)detection, prediction and monitoring of mental ill-health trajectories in youth. The researchers hope to translate the findings into clinical innovation and life-long impact in Europe and beyond.

According to Professor Kelleher, a consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist working in the Irish health service and a HRB Emerging Clinician Scientist: “I want to see cutting-edge research that can transform our approach to the treatment of young people attending our specialist mental health services. This Horizon Europe funding will allow us to carry out innovative research into biological, psychological and social factors that impact upon the very patients I see in my clinic day in, day out.” As a Work Package lead on Clinical Innovation, Professor Kelleher will work with partner clinics in Spain, Croatia, Serbia, Estonia and the Netherlands to carry out some of the most in-depth research ever conducted on teenagers attending mental health services. Underlining the potential impact of this funding, he adds: “The study will give us unique insights into how risk for serious mental illness emerges and how to predict and, ultimately, prevent poor long-term mental health outcomes.”

Professor David Cotter, who holds a HRB collaborative Doctoral award, commented: ‘This exciting project gives us, with our European partners, the opportunity to work with young people to identify the factors that predict later mental illness – helping us to predict who is most vulnerable and so to act to prevent later illness and distress.”

Submitted by Kay-Duggan-Walls

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