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Research into the mind and brain

The stained glass window at

Research plays a central role in SANE’s work. It informs how we help people through our services, guides our campaigns and helps to ensure there is a greater variety of effective treatments.

Sharing knowledge and increasing people’s understanding of mental illness are two of SANE’s core aims, providing the essential structure for our outcomes.

SANE founded the Prince of Wales International Centre (POWIC) for SANE Research in Oxford in 2003. Under the leadership of Professor Tim Crow, SANE conducted research into causes of schizophrenia and psychosis.

Our researchers look for physiological causes of mental illness by studying genetics and brain chemistry.

Pictured: Light At The End Of The Tunnel, POWIC’s stained glass window created by Anthony Cleyndert.

Serious mental illness

One of SANE’s primary objectives is to initiate research into the causes of serious mental illness.

Schizophrenia, which affects one in 100 people worldwide, doesn’t attract funds for research in the same way as other conditions. There is still no known cause or cure.

SANE gave grants to individual scientific projects, but began working towards building a centre of excellence to investigate the causes of psychosis. This centre would unite scientists from different disciplines and cultures to stimulate new ideas and information.

SANE’s patron at the time, HRH The Prince of Wales, launched a £6m 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 £1.75m, 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 Crow became SANE’s original honorary scientific director, and Oxford University was chosen the centre’s home. Research began in 1994 in temporary laboratories donated by Oxford University and a research team collaborated with 20 laboratories worldwide.

SANE CEO Marjorie Wallace with HRH Prince Charles

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.

It houses laboratory and office space, as well as conference and library facilities. SANE is the only charity with a centre of this kind.

Pictured: SANE Founder and Chief Executive, Marjorie Wallace CBE with HRH Prince Charles at POWIC.

the aims

1. To establish the causes of severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and depression.

2. To become a central point for discussion in this field.

3. To share scientific information about mental illnesses.


POWIC research explored Professor Crow’s pioneering hypothesis that psychotic illness is experienced only by human beings; and that it is at the point at which they develop asymmetry of the brain, and with it higher functions of thought and language, that symptoms of psychosis first emerge. The research involved:

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.

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