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Support for global brain effort


Scientists at QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute will receive funding from the United States government to co-direct a global effort to better understand brain diseases and mental illness.

Researchers from over 30 countries have joined forces for the ENIGMA (Enhancing Neuro Imaging Genetics through Meta-Analysis) project, to identify risk factors and treatment targets for illnesses and conditions such as dementia, depression and autism.

At QIMR Berghofer, Professor Nick Martin and Drs Margie Wright and Sarah Medland co-founded ENIGMA in 2009, with Professor Paul Thompson from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles and medical researchers from Europe.

“So far the ENIGMA team has pooled brain scans and DNA collected from more than 30,000 people at over 185 sites globally,” Dr Wright said.

“QIMR Berghofer has contributed the data from 1,200 young people from the Institute’s QTIM (Queensland Twin IMaging) study.

“The combined data is so vast one scientist could never analyse it – but we can screen one another’s data to discover genes or drug targets that help or harm the brain.”

The ENIGMA project has largely relied on the good will of scientists contributing their time and data – until now.

The United States National Institutes of Health has just announced a grant of $11 million for the project overall, and QIMR Berghofer will receive $100,000 per year for the next four years towards the cost of leading many of the analyses.

Dr Wright says the worldwide funding injection will enable ENIGMA to build on the considerable momentum and energy that already exists across the project, to process data more quickly, and to use new methods to help interrogate the very large datasets that data pooling creates.

“Many diseases affecting the brain remain hard to treat because their underlying cause isn’t known, and risk factors for mental illness are so complex,” Dr Wright said.

“The pooling of this genetic and brain scan data from around the world brings a power to research efforts that has not existed before.”

More information about the ENIGMA Center for Worldwide Medicine, Imaging and Genomics is available from the website – .