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21st Congress of the College of Neuropsychopharmacology, Aug. 30-Sept. 3, 2008, Spain

The enormous burden and amount of suffering associated with mental disorders represent one of the biggest challenges for health care systems in Europe today. This challenge is marked by the immense scope and costs of mental disorders. Important factors are their persistent increase due to an aging population, the rapid socioeconomic changes currently taking place, and, finally, the large unmet treatment needs, combined with insufficient awareness of their existence and significance. There is a compelling need to improve the life of people suffering from mental disorders and to assert the importance of a scientific approach to the disease manifestations, causes and treatments.

The European College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ECNP) is a unique and remarkably broad interdisciplinary platform which strongly emphasises translational research with the aim to apply new knowledge on fundamental disease mechanisms to clinical applications and vice versa. This approach takes into account the context in which mental health care is operating. ECNP bridges the gap between basic research, clinical science and medical practice, paving the way for improved pharmacological treatments, which will improve the quality of life of millions of people suffering from mental disorders.

Mental health in Europe

Mental and behavioural disorders are present at all ages and across different cultures and population groups and are major causes of disability worldwide. In the European Union (EU) over 80 million people of all ages are estimated to suffer from mental disorders and more than one third of the EU population is, or has been, affected by at least one disorder in the last twelve months; based on lifetime risk, the figure is even higher, with 50% of the population being affected (Wittchen et al., 2005). Mental disorders are often characterized by an onset early in life and an unfavourable long-term course of the illness, with adverse effects on school performance and academic career, social functioning and somatic health throughout life, frequently associated with immense suffering also for the patients families, partners and friends.

Taking into account the high degree of psychiatric comorbidity, the most frequent mental disorders in the European Union are anxiety disorders, followed by depressive, somatoform and addictive disorders involving nicotine, alcohol and drugs (Wittchen & Jacobi, 2005). Depression, for instance, is the second most important cause of disability and increases the risk of suicide, which in the EU is higher than death from traffic accidents, homicide or HIV/AIDS (EU 2005). Moreover, in the past decades there has been a steep increase in the risk of depression and related disorders, such as burn-out, especially among women. This development predominantly seems to be related to the rapid societal changes currently taking place, with vanishing traditional roles, growing workplace stress and unemployment ranking first among a variety of influential factors. Furthermore, current demographic changes due to an aging population will lead to a rising prevalence of mental illness and neurological disorders with typical behavioural and psychological symptoms, especially dementia and Parkinsons disease.

The majority of the EU population will suffer from a mental disorder at least once in their lifetime, with the lifetime risk continuing to increase.

Besides the pain experienced by those struck by these disorders and their families, mental illness causes considerable economic costs due to lost productivity, disability and social-service payments, and increased morbidity and mortality. Currently, the resources spent on mental health care, including prevention and health promotion, are far from proportional to the costs incurred by mental health problems, which have been estimated at between 3% and 4% of gross national product (WHO 2003; Jan-Llopis & Anderson, 2006). According to an ECNP/EBC project, mental disorders in Europe rank first in terms of direct and indirect health-related economic costs, reaching a total of over 290 billion euros (Wittchen et al., 2005). Unlike somatic diseases with their typically high direct costs, mental disorders cause relatively low direct costs and extremely high indirect costs, above all through the loss of productivity as a consequence of the disease, e.g. work days lost due to disability, retirement or premature death. Moreover, when mental disorders are not recognized and treated, the treatment of comorbid somatic illnesses is usually less efficient and therefore more expensive.

Recent data consistently demonstrate an association of all mental disorders with generally low treatment rates: according to an epidemiological survey comprising over 150,000 subjects from 16 European countries, only 26% of all patients ever received professional health care services (Wittchen & Jacobi, 2005). Furthermore, according to a recent worldwide study comprising 84,850 adults in 17 countries with diverse economic backgrounds, at least two thirds of the people who are mentally ill go without treatment in the countries covered by the study. In Europe, 74% of all mentally ill persons are not treated, compared with only 8% of diabetics remaining untreated (Wittchen & Jacobi 2005; Wang et al., 2007; Thornicroft 2007). In most cases, treatment starts late, after many years of illness, when severe complications are already present, and among those treated, appropriate therapy is rarely provided.

In adolescents and young adults, in particular, the vast majority of disorders of the brain remain untreated.

On account of the scope of the problem and the enormous costs involved, mental disorders have recently attracted the interest of both politicians and public-health experts in many countries. Mental disorders clearly call for concerted action on various levels, ranging from the investigation of the determinants and risk factors to systematic programs to explore the benefits of preventive measures and early intervention, from substantially increased funding for basic and clinical research to better training and medical education. Since recent research has identified and further developed effective interventions and improved the treatments available, early therapeutic intervention has become increasingly important in terms of its potential benefits. More than ever before, any support for mental health is bound to have a positive impact, as it results in improved care.

Raising awareness of mental disorders among the public at large as well as among physicians, politicians and policy-makers is a matter of great urgency; at the same time, every effort has to be made to tackle the stigma and discrimination associated with these conditions.

European College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ECNP)

ECNP is a non-profit scientific society established in 1987 on the initiative of scientists and clinicians working in Europe in the convergent disciplines in neuropsychopharmacology and related areas. ECNP is a source of scientific progress and promotes the further development of medical practice in psychiatry and neurology. ECNP has set itself the task of bringing together clinicians and basic researchers to discuss and exchange ideas and experience in neuropsychopharmacology in order to enhance the quality of research and treatment in this field. One of its major objectives is the translation of new knowledge derived from preclinical science (involving neurochemistry, imaging, and genetics) into the design of therapeutic investigations, clinical practice and policy.

ECNP sees its main functions in the encouragement of research and education:

  • its objectives in the field of research are to offer investigators an opportunity for interdisciplinary communication through regular scientific meetings and to promote the application of a broad range of scientific disciplines to the study of drug effects on the brain and on behaviour in the interest of an improved understanding and treatment of mental disorders.

  • its educational goals are to encourage young scientists to enter research careers in neuropsychopharmacology, to develop new insights into behavioural and mental disorders, and to provide up-to-date information about their pharmacological treatment. Therefore, young scientists are always the focus of attention of ECNP's scientific activities.

The role of neuropsychopharmacology & ECNP

Neuropsychopharmacology bridges the gap between basic neuroscience and the treatment of neurological and psychiatric diseases. Its aim is to understand the biological basis for altered emotions, thought processes and the complex mental states that occur in mental illness. On a more practical level, its goal is to develop specific therapeutic molecules to regulate the biological mechanisms of mental disorders, i.e. the neuronal interactions that give rise to these disorders. For this purpose,neuropsychopharmacology investigates the selective effect of drugs on the central nervous system (CNS) and their use in treating disorders such as anxiety, mania, depression, schizophrenia, dementia or neurological and addictive disorders in the most rational and empirical manner. The interaction between nerve cells (neurons) that underlies complex mental functions such as thinking, learning, memory or emotion is mediated by a large number of chemical neurotransmitters and neuromodulators. Disturbances in neurotransmitter function are seen as the main cause of mental disorders and certain neurological disorders such as Parkinsons or Alzheimers disease. To understand neurotransmitter function in mental health and disease, ECNP has stimulated cross-disciplinary forces - ranging from psychiatry to neurology, pharmacology and psychology - to carry out research on brain mechanisms and functions. A broad range of professionals, including clinicians and researchers, are engaged in brain imaging, chronobiology, neurochemistry, neuroimmunology, genetics, molecular biology and epidemiology.

The most profound research challenge in neuropsychopharmacology is to understand the mechanism underlying brain functions in normal and pathological mental states.

ECNPs support to research activities is oriented towards the development of new drugs acting on specific receptors within a neurotransmitter system. These drugs should be designed to allow the direct targeting of specific sites of relevant neuronal activity, thereby maximizing the efficacy of the drug within the clinical target and minimizing adverse events. From the translational perspective of neuropsychopharmacology, scientists not only want to understand the mechanisms of action of drugs used for treatment, but also to use drug-treatment findings to learn more about the pathogenesis and pathophysiology of the underlying disorders. In this manner, a new level of integration of basic preclinical research, clinical neuroscience and clinical therapeutics becomes a key objective. This objective can inform and guide advances in neuropsychopharmacology and lead to a next generation of promising new treatments for mental disorders. The research presented at the ECNP Congresses so far has led to improved treatment for people with mental disorders ranging from autism, addictions and Alzheimer's disease to mood disorders, psychoses and schizophrenia.

ECNP puts emphasis on understanding how basic discoveries are relevant to patient symptoms and illness, as well as on identifying and testing promising new medications with novel mechanisms. In so doing, ECNP is paving the way for improved pharmacological treatments, which will improve the quality of life of millions of people suffering from mental disorders.

21st ECNP Congress, Barcelona, Spain

From 30 August - 3 September 2008, more than 6,500 neuroscience researchers, psychiatrists, neurologists, psychologists and practitioners from all over the world will gather in Barcelona at the 21st ECNP Congress. The programme will not only present the latest findings and breakthroughs in neuropsychopharmacology and related areas in both clinical and preclinical settings, but also cover the various aspects of pharmacotherapy of brain disorders and its benefits for patients with psychiatric and neurological disorders in terms of quality of life. The ECNP Congress is expected to stimulate discussion about ways of implementing new knowledge and the most effective therapeutic approaches, while taking into account the current economic background of such therapy. In addition, this high-level scientific meeting - the largest of its kind in Europe - will deal with the impact of current social, economic and cultural changes on mental health care, e.g. neuro-ethics, effects of migration etc.

Highlights of the 21st ECNP Congress

The comprehensive programme of the ECNP Congress includes over 100 topics to be presented by more than 600 experts. The outstanding highlights are:

  • Antidepressants in general and in suicide prevention
  • Neurogenesis in the adult brain: the association with stress and depression
  • The consensus statement 2007 on bipolar depression
  • The first autism disease genes
  • Antihypertensive treatment on cognitive functions in Alzheimer's disease
  • Alcoholism-associated molecular adaptations in brain neurocognitive circuits

Invitation: meet the scientists!

Experts on the above themes will be available for questions by journalists in the course of topic-specific press conferences at the 21st ECNP Congress. Please refer to the detailed schedule of press conferences in the enclosed "press information and procedures".

In addition, cutting-edge research findings and future perspectives in the fields of depression, bipolar affective disorders, schizophrenia, dementia, anxiety disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder, drugs & addiction, autism, suicide prevention, and basic neuroscience will be presented in plenary lectures, symposia and educational updates. The challenges and consequences of current socioeconomic changes for mental health care are taken into account. Great emphasis will be placed on clear take-home messages that can easily be translated into clinical practice by medical professionals.

ECNP is proud to present the report of the ECNP Consensus Meeting 2007 on 'bipolar depression'. Through annual consensus meetings on specific topics, ECNP aims to facilitate the dialogue between European regulatory authorities, the scientific community and the pharmaceutical industry in order to achieve a common policy in neuropsychopharmacology.

ECNP has received over 800 papers for poster presentation, of which 744 papers have been accepted for poster presentation, each of them offering an exciting insight into the research activities of (young) scientists.

The aim of ECNP is that the 21st ECNP Congress will highlight the contribution of neuropsychopharmacology to medical practice and help all of us to raise awareness for mental disorders both among physicians and the public at large.


Contact: Sonja Mak
European College of Neuropsychopharmacology

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