EXCITING research projects are taking shape in a new mental health research centre.

Just six short months ago the ribbon was cut on the Oxford Health Biomedical Research Centre (BRC).

Over the course of the next five years it will receive £12.8 million from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) to fund its research in mental health and dementia.

Julia Hamer-Hunt, who has bipolar disorder, is just one of the patients actively involved in shaping the future for mental health research and care.

She is the lay co-chairwoman of the Oxford Health Biomedical Research Centre Patient and Research Group (PRG).

She said: "There are about 30 to 40 members of the group and they are made up of researchers, patients, carers and some are members of the public with an interest in mental health research.

"The first role we have to complete, which is an important one, is to set out what the patient and public involvement will look like across all of the research.

"It is quite a challenge because of the nature of the work."

The hub of the new centre is at Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust's Warneford Hospital site.

Ms Hamer-Hunt said she thinks it is important for everyone involved in the system, both clinicians and patients, to be a part of the entire research process.

She added: "It is my experience, and observation, that people with mental health disorders are frequently isolated and outside the ‘mainstream’ of society.

"By being involved in research in addition to gaining information and knowledge about one’s disorder/disease, one has more opportunity to mix with others in a non-judgemental setting, be in a structure environment, learn ‘rules of social engagement’ and this in, and of, itself is useful and helpful in the healing process."

The research aims to enable the NHS to routinely use innovations such as using an app to track mood changes to help diagnose and personalise treatments for mood disorders.

It could also help treat paranoia using virtual reality stimulations, treat psychotic disorders using neuroimmunology and deliver therapy over the internet for conditions such as anxiety.

One such researcher, hoping to make a difference in tailoring treatment for patients, is Dr Liz Tunbridge.

The 39-year-old associate professor said they hope to set up research cafes to encourage collaboration.

She said: "We want to encourage a culture where we get input from people from lots of different backgrounds.

"I think one of the best ways to do that is to have these cafes, where you can go discuss ideas and see what you can do to help further them.

"What we really hope to do is personalise treatments for patients with mental health conditions because we know one size does not fit all."

Scientists are also planning to use cutting-edge techniques in genetics, brain imaging and computation to find ‘biomarkers’ which could help predict who might be at risk of developing dementia and to diagnose the disease early.

These approaches will enable researchers to develop treatments for dementia, and come up with ways of maintaining normal mental functioning as we grow older.

Lead dementia researcher at the BRC Dr Clare Mackay added: "I think that one of reasons why we’ve failed to find successful treatments for dementia is not using enough ‘real-life’ patients.

"Patients usually included in research studies often have much more clear-cut symptoms and conditions than real clinical practice.

"By using more real-life patients from sources such as the Oxford Health memory clinic, we hope to come up with dementia treatments which will have real-life success too."