First, a warm welcome to ‘From mice to mental health’ at the Royal Society – an interdisciplinary meeting of researchers who range from basic scientists to clinicians – yet who bring together their different methods to a shared goal. Our common approach is to understand and improve mental health treatments via mental health science (Holmes, Craske and Graybiel, 2014, Nature).
Clinicians and scientists must work together to understand and improve mental health treatments. Mental–health disorders now account for more than 15% of the disease burden in developed countries, more than all forms of cancer. Even the best mental health treatments demand improvement – for example to increase the proportion of patients who achieve a clinically meaningful reduction in symptoms or full remission. Mental health science has an important role to play in improving treatments of all types, whether psychological, pharmacological or their combination. Basic and clinical neuroscientists pioneering research into mental health disorders have much to learn from each other, but opportunities for interaction are limited. A culture gap means both sides are often unaware of what the other is doing. Therefore, it is hoped this meeting facilitates dialogue – ultimately to aid in the development of translational models for mental health.
Second, Professor Holmes will discuss work from her group. The group’s core interests are (1) psychological trauma and mental imagery; (2) translating experimental psychopathology for psychological treatment development. Intrusive memories of psychological trauma comprise mental images. Mental imagery involves an experience like perception in the absence of a percept, such as ‘seeing in our mind’s eye’. Intrusive memories that ‘flash back’ to past trauma occur in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) while images that ‘flash forwards’ to the future can occur in bipolar disorder.
To better understand and treat maladaptive mental imagery, the group is curious about what can be learned from animal and human neuroscience. Here Professor Holmes will discuss work concerning intrusive memory encoding using human fMRI (Clark et al, 2016, Psych Med); and a behavioural method (dual task interference) to disrupt memory re-consolidation which reduces the frequency of intrusive memories of experimental trauma in humans, yet is informed by animal models (James et al, 2015, Psych Sci). Finally, she will discuss the successful translation of this intervention (memory activation plus Tetris gameplay) to patients (Iyadurai et al, 2017, Molecular Psychiatry). Results show a brief intervention delivered in a hospital emergency department after a traumatic motor vehicle accident reduces the number of intrusive memories of trauma. Results have replicated in a different traumatised population (Horsch et al, in press, Behaviour Research and Therapy). Given the scale of trauma world wide – from accidents to refugees who have experienced war- the need for new effective treatments after trauma that can reach a large population has never been greater.