Cognitive and Emotional Development of Young People

Janssen-Cilag funds preliminary study

The current view of schizophrenia is as a dysfunction in neural connectivity which may be evident in childhood but only gives rise to recognisable symptoms in adolescence. In order to identify this process it is essential to understand the basis of normal neurocognitive and emotional development.

Janssen-Cilag, a major long-term supporter of the Institute, has provided $75,000 funding to initiate a feasibility study as a prelude to a large scale longitudinal survey of development from late childhood to adolescence.

Signs in childhood that neuronal connectivity may not be developing as it should (neurodevelopmental dysmaturation) appear to be precursors of a number of neuropsychiatric illnesses and behavioural disturbances which have their onset in adolescence.

These signs need to be distinguished from normal development of attention motor control, perception, memory and emotion regulation. The course of development of these functions needs to be tracked over time as a basis for identifying deviations from a normal developmental trajectory.

The Janssen-Cilag funding will enable a pilot study to test measurement tools, identify the range of normal functioning, determine the feasibility of selection processes and prepare grant
applications for further stages.

Depending on the award of further funding, the study proposes to screen a large number of primary school children across the spectrum of neurodevelopmental functioning. The larger study is intended to follow these children for a number of years and measure relevant health outcomes.

If the study is successful it could provide the necessary knowledge to enable the population based screening of risk factors for a number of neuropsychiatric disorders, including schizophrenia. Thus the proposed study could constitute a potentially important step towards schizophrenia prevention.

$3.8 Million for Schizophrenia Research


Premier Morris Iemma and the Macquarie Bank Foundation launch a powerful new partnership

What’s in the box? Premier Iemma and Verity Firth, Minister for Science & Medical Research, are put to work in the new lab by Prof. Cyndi Shannon Weickert.

Speaking at the official launch of the Schizophrenia Research Laboratory on 8 October, Premier Morris Iemma announced a major new investment in NSW schizophrenia research:

- NSW Government funding of $2.45 million over five years to the Institute and the University of NSW to establish a Schizophrenia Evidence Library, and a new Chair in Schizophrenia
Epidemiology and Population Health.

- A Macquarie Bank Foundation grant of $1.375 million over five years to the Institute to establish Prof. Cyndi Shannon Weickert as the Macquarie Bank Foundation Chair of Schizophrenia Research.

Welcoming the new funding, Institute CEO Prof. Vaughan Carr commented that schizophrenia alone costs the Australian community $2.62 billion and the Government $1.70 billion annually.
The cost in emotional distress to Australian families is incalculable.

The new initiatives announced by Premier Iemma and Julie White, Head of the Macquarie Bank Foundation, recognise that these burdens can only be reduced by discovering new means
of treatment and prevention through research. That is why this powerful new partnership has been established between NSW Health, the Schizophrenia Research Institute, Prince of Wales Medical Research Institute, University of New South Wales and the Macquarie Bank Foundation, said Prof. Carr.

Macquarie Group Foundation

Julie White of the Macquarie Bank Foundation with Prof. Cyndi Shannon Weickert and Institute CEO Prof.Vaughan Carr.

Julie White said the establishment of the Macquarie Bank Foundation Chair of Schizophrenia Research positioned Australia to take a leading role in the international schizophrenia research
effort. She said it was particularly encouraging that the position had attracted someone of Prof. Cyndi Shannon Weickert’s calibre and international standing. The partnership represents the Macquarie Bank Foundation’s largest commitment to schizophrenia research to date. Mrs White said the Foundation’s ties to the Schizophrenia Research Institute were further evidenced by the fact that Macquarie’s Financial Services Group Head, Peter Maher, served as its Chairman.

Evidence Library and new Chair

The Schizophrenia Evidence Library will be a resource comprising relevant research findings gathered from a variety of sources and stored in a searchable database to serve as a resource to scientists, clinicians, government, consumer and carer groups, and the general public.

The linked new Chair in Schizophrenia Research Epidemiology and Population Health will specialise in the study of environmental and social influences on schizophrenia that could
provide the basis for interventions. Epidemiology is highly regarded in evidence-based medicine for identifying risk factors for disease and long term outcomes of treatment.


Financial Services Sector Raises $230,000

Schizophrenia Research Institute selected as IFSA Community Partner

IFSA members in full swing for worthy causes.

Many thanks to the Investment and Financial Services Association (IFSA) for selecting the Institute as a Community Partner. IFSA is a national organisation which represents the retail and wholesale funds management, superannuation and life insurance industries. More than 1,000 IFSA members attended their annual “Breakthrough” Conference and Charity Gala Dinner held in Brisbane in August. A record $461,000 was raised and divided equally between the Institute and the Inspire Foundation.

IFSA CEO Richard Gilbert said the Institute was a perfect fit for the Community Partner program’s focus on youth, as schizophrenia is a disease which usually appears between the ages of 15 and 25, severely disabling most sufferers. More research into this complex illness is the only way to reduce the numbers of young people affected by it. The Gala Dinner was attended by Institute Chair Peter Maher, and CEO Prof. Vaughan Carr.

Differences in the hippocampus

Further evidence implicates the dysbindin gene in schizophrenia

A 2003 review of genes likely to increase risk of schizophrenia listed seven candidates. More recently, research has focused on two of these candidates as carrying the strongest risk. They are known as dysbindin (DTNBP1) and neuregulin (NRG1). The hunt is now on to find out how these genes are differently expressed in various areas of the schizophrenia-affected brain.

The Institute’s Professor of Schizophrenia Research, Cyndi Shannon Weickert, has targeted the hippocampus, which is a part of the limbic system in the centre of the brain, which processes emotion and memory.

In situ hybridization detection of dysbindin-1 mRNA in the hippocampus. A: Normal levels in control sections. B: Reduced levels in schizophrenia sections. C: Relative levels in 4 areas of the hippocampus.

Using postmortem hippocampus sections, Prof. Shannon Weickert detected a 20-40% reduction of dysbindin- 1 mRNA in the brains of patients who suffered from schizophrenia. Earlier studies have found reductions of dysbindin-1 proteins in the hippocampus in schizophrenia.

As mRNA is the biological agent which transcribes the coding from the gene to build those proteins, this study has given us a broader understanding of how the expression of the dysbindin gene can go wrong to produce the abnormal neuronal connectivity in the hippocampus which contributes
to schizophrenia.

Weickert C, Rothmond D, Hyde T, Kleinman J, Straub R. Reduced DTNBP1 (dysbindin-1) mRNA in the Hippocampal Formation of Schizophrenia Patients. Schizophrenia Research (in press).


Australian Schizophrenia Research Bank Launched

Australia’s largest ever “brain bank” research project, which is expected to play a crucial role in the international search for a schizophrenia cure is being launched in Sydney today.

The ‘bank’ – initially to hold the brain-related data of 4,000 Australian volunteers with schizophrenia and without a mental illness – will be the largest schizophrenia research facility of its type in the world.

Led by the Schizophrenia Research Institute (formerly the Neuroscience Institute of  Schizophrenia and Allied Disorders), the $3.5 million project has brought together scientists from New South Wales, Victoria, West Australia, and Queensland.

Schizophrenia is a life-long disease and causes significant social and economic costs in addition to individual suffering – making it one of the world’s top 10 causes of long-term disability.

“One of the greatest challenges we have faced in schizophrenia research has been getting access to scientific data from a large enough sample of sufferers to be able to make statistically robust and reliable conclusions,” Professor Carr said.

“The new research bank will allow scientists to analyse vital genetic and brain information from schizophrenia sufferers on a scale never before possible.”

The $3.5 million funding for the research project has come from the National Health and Medical Research Council, The Pratt Foundation, and the Australian Rotary Health Research Fund.

“This initiative is a great example of how the Government, corporate, philanthropic, research and the general community can work together for a solution,” Schizophrenia Research Institute Chair & Group Head, Macquarie Bank, Peter Maher said.

The multi-media advertising campaign to recruit the 4,000 volunteers will begin today.

John Singleton and the Singleton Ogilvy & Mather group have donated their services for the campaign and the television advertisement features the voice of actor Russell Crowe. McKesson Asia Pacific have also donated call centre facilities.