The Prince of Wales International Centre for SANE Research
The Prince of Wales International Centre for SANE Research (POWIC) in Oxford houses investigations into finding the causes of and better treatment for serious mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia and depression.
POWIC was built with donations from Nicholas and Matti Egon from the Xylas shipping family, the late King of Saudi Arabia Fahd bin Abdel Aziz Al-Said, Keeper of the Two Holy Mosques, and His Majesty the Sultan of Brunei. The building was formally opened by SANE’s Patron, HRH The Prince of Wales in February 2003, although the scientific programme had been running for the previous nine years. Support for POWIC was encouraged by SANE's founder and chief executive Marjorie Wallace (SANE) CBE.
Prior to the formation of SANE in 1986 there was a considerable paucity of research interest in schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. One of the charity’s endeavours has been to initiate and fund research into the causes and treatments of mental illness.
In order to focus research efforts, SANE established POWIC in conjunction with the research psychiatrist Professor Tim Crow.
Professor Crow was appointed the honorary scientific director of SANE based at the Department of Psychiatry at Warneford Hospital, part of Oxford University. SANE successfully raised £3.5 million to establish a new centre on the Warneford Hospital site. The specially designed and purpose built centre includes office and laboratory space, as well as conference and library facilities.
The aims The aims of POWIC are:
- to establish the causes of severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and depression
- to become a central point for discussion in this field
- to disseminate scientific information on mental illnesses.
Professor Crow has been studying schizophrenia for over 20 years, and he and his research group have been developing and researching a specific hypothesis about the origins of psychosis - that it is associated with the unique human capacity for language.
Professor Crow arrived at this hypothesis by bringing together the fact that schizophrenia only appears to occur in humans and not in our closest relatives, chimpanzees. The same can be said of brain asymmetry (the left and right sides of the brain, which are basically the same, being different in size). Brain asymmetry has been linked to the capacity for language.
POWIC's quest for an organic basis for mental illness is pursued using three levels of explanation:
- genetics - looking at the genetic differences between humans and chimpanzees to find out about brain evolution, and genetic differences between individuals with schizophrenia and those without
- neuropathology - the physical differences between the brains of those with schizophrenia and those without, such as regional brain volumes and cell density
- neuroimaging and psychology - the relationship between brain structure on MRI scans and behaviour, in particular between brain asymmetry and language function.
In 2008, POWIC shared its building with the Oxford Mindfulness Centre(OMC), a new charity working within the University of Oxford Department of Psychiatry which will conduct research and training in Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy for people with severe, recurrent depression who are at risk of suicide.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who visited Oxford in 2008, gave his support to the new Centre and the scientific examination of the Mindfulness approach: "My primary concern is not to propogate [sic] religion, but to benefit humanity. It is certainly right to use Buddhist techniques like mindfulness to alleviate suffering in this life."
Within the space occupied by the OMC, a third strand of research, with immediate impact on mental health service users and their families, will be conducted under the leadership of Professor Tom Burns CBE. His National Institute for Health Research team will be investigating the implications of the Mental Health Act 2008 and ethical issues involved in voluntary as against compulsory psychiatric treatment.