Chief Medical Officer for Scotland visits researchers

Dr Catherine Calderwood, Chief Medical Officer for Scotland, visited Mental Health researchers at the University of Edinburgh in January to hear about the projects the team is working on in Scotland and Malawi.

She was welcomed and accompanied on the visit by The Principal of the University of Edinburgh, Professor Peter Mathieson


The researchers were keen to impress upon Dr Calderwood the importance of Big Data Science to the future of mental health research.

Dr Calderwood replied: “The time is now to talk about this. Everyone has Mental Health.”

High on the agenda at the meeting was the pending public consultation around the use of Guthrie Cards [newborn blood spots] for research. Over 3 million Guthrie cards have been collected in Scotland since 1965 and ~60,000 new ones are added each year.  Guthrie cards are potentially an invaluable source of data which has been stored away – preserved, but legally inaccessible. Yet, the conclusion come to both by a Citizen’s Jury and a public survey is that allowing research access to this resource is in the public’s interest.

The researchers asked Dr Calderwood to lend her support towards further action which would allow this wealth of blood and DNA data to be used to improve healthcare for all.


For Mental Health research in particular, the Guthrie cards could provide an invaluable baseline. For example, they could show what DNA methylation patterns looked like at birth, before they had been overly altered by environmental factors (such as medication, smoking, alcohol, or infection). This could give researchers new insights into how environmental factors interact with genes to promote or protect us from metal ill-health.  

 “We have to get it right. But if we do, it is a world-changing and world-leading study,” added Professor David Porteous

Read more about the visit in our Twitter Moment:


[Article written by Laura Marenco while on student placement from MSc in Science Communication and Public Engagement]