Work in progress

How we’re applying neuroscience to advance mental health research

The full promise of neuroscience for mental health clinical practice has not been realised yet. Cat Sebastian and Camilla Iannone explain how we’re trying to bring together neuroscientists and clinical experts for our funding call and partnership with Neuromatch.

Two researchers wearing lab coats are closely observing a vial.

Two scientists at work at the Sainsbury Wellcome Centre in London.


Jason Alden / Wellcome

Licence: All Rights Reserved

Catherine Sebastian

Camilla Iannone

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How we’re applying neuroscience to advance mental health research
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Depression, anxiety and psychosis affect millions of people worldwide, but we still lack knowledge about how these conditions develop and resolve. Improving understanding and treatment requires researchers to work together across different fields.

Our Mental Health Award will drive progress in mental health by funding projects that involve collaborations between neuroscientists, professionals working clinically in mental health and people with lived experience.  

We know that finding collaborators can be a challenge. That’s why we’re working with the online networking platform Neuromatch to provide a new way for researchers from different specialisms to find each other.

Applying neuroscience to address mental health problems 

At Wellcome, we want to drive a transformative change in our ability to intervene as early as possible in the course of anxiety, depression and psychosis. However, work is needed to better understand mental health problems in ways that will ultimately benefit people living with mental health problems.

Last year, we commissioned a report to explore how cellular, animal and computational neuroscience could best rise to address this challenge. Two key points emerged: the potential in combining different methodological approaches and the need for more collaboration between neuroscientists and clinical researchers.  

The potential in combining methodological approaches

Mental health research benefits from combining different methodologies so that problems can be explored from different angles, providing insights into how the brain, body and environment interact.  

Models – cellular, animal or computational – are a simplified representation of the complexity of mental health conditions. They are designed to isolate key features and uncover new insights about conditions and their symptoms, and each modelling approach makes a distinct contribution.  

The report concluded that combining computational and experimental models in mental health research is a powerful approach that harnesses the advantages of each.  

With the term ‘computational’ we include both theory-driven ‘top-down’ approaches and data-driven ‘bottom-up’ approaches.

  • Theory-driven approaches can help us understand mental health symptoms like hallucinations, delusions and low motivation at multiple levels, linking cells to brain to human experience.
  • Data-driven methods such as machine learning can be used to detect patterns in patient data, potentially enabling more tailored allocation to treatment.

The importance of collaboration in mental health research

To unlock the full potential of neuroscience in mental health, more collaboration is needed among neuroscientists, clinical researchers and people with lived experience.

This is crucial to translate research theory into clinical practice and ensure any interventions that are developed work for the people they are intended for.  

Collaboration is also a major driver of innovation in mental health science. By working together and bringing diverse perspectives to the table, research may be more likely to progress in novel and fruitful directions.

That’s where our funding call comes in.

With this Mental Health Award, Wellcome will fund projects that focus on understanding symptoms associated with anxiety, depression and/or psychosis.

How we’re facilitating collaboration through our neuroscience funding call 

Our Mental Health Award invites researchers to be especially collaborative.

We recognise that finding suitable collaborators to meet a funding deadline can be a challenge. That’s why we have decided to partner with Neuromatch for this call.

Neuromatch specialises in connecting researchers through networking and matchmaking activities. Using artificial intelligence and a bespoke algorithm, it ‘matches’ researchers around the world who are working on the same problems and helps them work together.

The use of Neuromatch is not mandatory for applicants but provides another route to identifying novel collaboration opportunities. To find out more, visit the Neuromatch sign-up page.  

The future of neuroscience and mental health research 

Our goal is to help realise the full potential of neuroscience in mental health research. Our funding call and partnership with Neuromatch is an important step.

We hope that researchers use Neuromatch to explore new possibilities and connect with experts with similar priorities and interests.

Our latest Mental Health Award is open to applications until 23 July 2024.