One of SANE’s primary objectives was to initiate research into the causes of serious mental illness such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Psychosis, which affects 1 in 100 people worldwide, has never attracted funds for research in the same way as other conditions and there is still no known cause or cure. Initially SANE gave grants to individual scientific projects but soon began working towards building a centre of excellence devoted solely to investigating the causes of psychosis. This centre would be international and would unite scientists from different disciplines and cultures to stimulate new ideas and provide information.
SANE’s patron, HRH The Prince of Wales, launched a £6million appeal for funds. Through his nephew Prince Turki al-Faisal, King Fahd bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, donated the first £1.75 million, which was matched by Nicholas and Matti Egon (Principal of the Greek shipping business founded by her father, Michael M Xylas). There were further donations, including an appeal in The Times and a generous contribution to SANE by His Majesty the Sultan of Brunei.
Professor Timothy Crow became SANE’s Honorary Scientific Director and Oxford University was selected as the home of the centre. Research began in 1994 in temporary laboratories donated by Oxford University and a research team was established, collaborating with 20 laboratories worldwide.
The Prince of Wales International Centre for SANE Research (POWIC) was officially opened by HRH The Prince of Wales in February 2003. Designed by architect Dr Demetri Porphyrios, the centre stands in the grounds of Warneford Hospital and houses laboratory and office space, as well as conference and library facilities. SANE is the only charity with a centre of this kind.
The research undertaken at POWIC explores Professor Crow’s pioneering hypothesis that psychotic illness is experienced only by human beings and that it was at the point at which they developed asymmetry of the brain and with it higher functions of thought and language that the symptoms of psychosis first became manifest.
The research is pursued in three scientific areas:
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.
neuro-pathology - the physical differences between the brains of those with schizophrenia and those without, such as regional brain volumes and cell density.
neuro-imaging and psychology - the relationship between brain structure on MRI scans and behaviour, in particular between brain asymmetry and language function.
The neuro-pathological research is carried out in collaboration with the Alzheimer’s Society, and Professor Crow and his team take part in numerous international collaborations and conferences.