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Launch of UK’s first genetics service to support patients and families

People in Wales affected by mental health issues will be able to benefit from a brand new genetics service, provided through a partnership with All Wales Medical Genomics Service, NHS Mental Health Services, and Cardiff University research centres.

The new All Wales Psychiatric Genomics Service aims to provide genetic counselling and access to genetic testing for people who are genetically more likely to experience a mental health disorder.

Approximately 30,000, or 1 in 100 people in Wales, are believed to be affected by severe mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia, which can negatively impact family life, social relationships, education, employment opportunities and overall quality of life.

A woman receives a diagnosis with her doctor

Until recently, mental health services have not had access to the information specialist genetics can provide.

This is set to change with the launch of the All Wales Psychiatric Genomics Service, a service developed from the needs of people with lived experience of mental ill-health and designed to deliver genetic counselling to individuals and families affected by mental illness, and support the professionals involved in their care.

Consultant Geneticist Dr Annie Procter, the clinical lead for the service, said: “The launch of this service is the thrilling culmination of nine years of partnership working and collaboration between people with lived experience of mental health challenges, and professionals working in genetic and mental health NHS services and academia, to translate world-leading academic research into frontline NHS service delivery to offer people affected by mental ill-health equal access to genetic advice if they want it.”

How will the service work?

Patients and families can be referred by local mental health or genetics teams.

Examples of people who might be considered include those with psychiatric disorders whose treatment is not proving to be effective as hoped, individuals worried about a family history of mental health disorders or people with known genetic risk factors wanting advice about possible risks to future children.

graphic of a pink magnifying glass over a pink strand of dna

The service is supported by psychiatrists, geneticists, genetic counsellors, genetic scientists, psychologists and pharmacists, as well as academic researchers.

If appropriate, individuals can be offered a genetic test which could help pinpoint small alterations in their DNA code – known as copy number variants (CNVs).

It is hoped the work could also help identify more genetic alterations which may be linked to mental ill-health.

Consultant Psychiatrist and Professor of Psychiatry at Cardiff University, Professor James Walters said:

This service represents the realisation of many years of research in Cardiff and across the world to find out more about the contribution of genetics to the risk of developing mental illnesses.

“For some people, genetics plays an important part in the development of their mental health problems, and we hope this new service can contribute to improving their mental and physical health.

“One of the most important and enjoyable aspects of the service is working with patients and their families to help them come to a better understanding of their condition.

We are one of a few teams in the world offering this service and it’s exciting to be setting out on this journey with patients, their families and colleagues from genetics and mental health services in the Welsh NHS.

Clinical geneticists and mental health professionals can refer individuals and families who:

  • have questions about how genetics may be relevant for people with a diagnosis of psychosis or a neurodevelopmental disorder.
  • want to know more about the possible genetic risks of having a family history of mental health disorders, including preconception and perinatal genetic risk advice.
  • wish to discuss the risk of developing a mental health disorder associated with a known neuropsychiatric genetic risk variant(s) ascertained by NHS genetic testing or findings from specific research studies.
  • in the clinician’s view may benefit from multidisciplinary assessment and possible genetic testing

The service is provided through a partnership between the All Wales Medical Genomics Service (AWMGS), Cardiff University’s MRC Centre for Neuropsychiatric Genetics & Genomics, the National Centre for Mental Health (NCMH), and NHS Mental Health Services. The service will be available to people across Wales.

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Catrin Hopkins

Catrin is the Communications Manager for NCMH and Cardiff University's Centre for Neuropsychiatric Genetics and Genomics

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