Understanding brain development: What next for research?



In recent years, the UK has witnessed a concerning increase in the prevalence of mental health conditions amongst children and young people.

Improving our knowledge of brain development and neurodevelopmental conditions will be crucial in addressing this rise. Despite significant advances within many areas of brain research, new research directions, multi-disciplinary ways of working, and greater openness across neurodevelopmental research will be vital to accelerate progress for patient and public benefit. 

Today, the Academy is delighted to launch the report of its innovative scientific meeting on ‘The developing brain in health and disease’, which brought together experts across disciplines, career stages and backgrounds for the first time, to promote conversations and tackle the silo-led approach that is a key barrier to the full translation of research. 

The two-day meeting, co-Chaired by Professor Sir Michael Owen FMedSci FLSW and Professor Kate Storey FRSE FMedSci, highlighted the latest advances in the field and provided a unique space for researchers across disciplines to discuss the challenges and priorities for neurodevelopmental research. Some of the key points that emerged from the meeting include:

  • Research enablers

Developing enhanced animal and cellular models, increasing the number of studies across the lifespan, and gaining greater access to human tissues via biobanks, among others, will be necessary for improving the understanding of brain development in health and disease, including the interaction between genes and the environment.  

  • Interdisciplinarity

There is a need for more multidisciplinary, cross-sector partnerships involving scientists, clinicians, industry representatives and others, as well as a need for increased datasets representing ethnically, geographically and socio-economically diverse populations.  This should be encouraged by academic institutions, and supported by improved funding mechanisms.

  • Data-driven research

Participants called for increased data sharing and better use of existing datasets, maximised by improved data collection and standardisation. However, the latter will need to be balanced to avoid stifling the development of novel techniques.

  • Greater openness

Steps to improve the reproducibility of research, increase patient and public engagement and better communicate the value of research, are important priorities if the UK wishes to continue to see scientific advances in this field.

Participants valued the meeting as providing a unique forum to discuss topical challenges and to catalyse connections across clinical and non-clinical disciplines. The success of the meeting was reflected in the widespread enthusiasm for a similar multidisciplinary meeting to be held in the near future, to build on the outcomes of the Academy’s meeting.  

The full report of the scientific meeting is available to download on the right. To find out more about ‘The developing brain in health and disease’ project, please visit our dedicated policy page.

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