Institute Research Awarded Over $2M


Institute Research Awarded Over $2M

The Schizophrenia Research Institute is pleased to announce that research supported by the Institute was recently rewarded with significant support from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) and Australian Research Council (ARC) totaling an investment of over $2 million. This funding reflects the quality and relevance of the Institute’s research program.

Congratulations to Institute CEO Prof. Vaughan Carr and Prof. Amanda Baker, Dr Chao Deng, Dr Francesca Fernandez, Dr Kristin Laurens, Prof. Rhoshel Lenroot, Prof. Pat Michie, Dr Elizabeth Maloney, A/Prof. Ulli Schall, Dr Nadia Solowij and Dr Juanita Todd.

The NHMRC and ARC are Australia’s peak bodies for supporting health and medical research, and to receive these grants is seen as a measure of excellence in the medical research community. To the recipients it means that their Australian research peers have assessed their research proposals as among the most likely to produce significant benefit to the community. The grant recipients and research projects are:

The NSW Child Development Study.
Carr V, Laurens K, Holbrook A, Lenroot R, Brinkman S, Bore M, Maloney E, Smith M, Matthews R. ARC Linkage Projects 2011-2014 ($429,099)
Research shows that a child’s development predicts health and social outcomes later in life. This Australian project will be the first to identify risk and protective factors associated with these outcomes in 87,000 children from birth to 10 years. The results will help inform governments to improve our children’s health and educational achievements.

Impaired anticipation of sensory events in schizophrenia.
Todd J, Schall U, Michie P, Ward P. NHMRC Project Grant 2011-2013 ($300,032).
Schizophrenia is a mental illness that costs Australia millions of dollars and hundreds of lives every year. To address schizophrenia we need to know more about how the illness develops. A brain measure (mismatch negativity) tracks biological brain changes and functional impairments in daily living that emerge in schizophrenia. It is not yet known if this measure can teach us about vulnerability to developing schizophrenia or only the effect of the disease. This study will address this question.

Vulnerability markers in the association between cannabis and schizophrenia.
Solowij N, Croft R, Todd J, Fernandez F, Michie P, McGuire P, Murray R. NHMRC Project Grant 2011-2013 ($499,006).
Understanding the conditions that confer vulnerability to the triggering of schizophrenia by cannabis use is key to preventing transition to psychosis in up to 14% of cases. This project will examine the long- and short-term effects of different cannabis compounds on specific vulnerability markers of brain chemical abnormalities in cannabis users from the general community.

Understanding the mechanisms of functionally selective antipsychotic drugs: Implications for new generation antipsychotic

Deng C. NHMRC Project Grant 2011-2013 ($359,182).
This project aims to reveal the mechanisms of new functionally selective antipsychotic drugs, which achieve an excellent therapeutic efficacy with low side-effects. Understanding these mechanisms will provide novel directions for the design of new generation antipsychotic drugs.

Follow up of Healthy Lifestyles Intervention for Cardiovascular Disease among people with a psychotic disorder.
Baker A, Richmond R, Castle D, Kay-Lambkin F. Follow-up of NHMRC Project Grant 2011-2013 ($436,085).

Congratulations also to Institute affiliates Prof. Stan Catts, A/Prof. Anthony Harris, Prof. Assen Jablensky, Dr Tim Karl, A/Prof. Robyn Langdon, Prof. Vera Morgan, Prof. Peter Schofield
and Prof. Lea Williams on the award of funding for schizophrenia and other mental health research projects that have not received direct support from the Institute.

Institute Research Awards 2010


Institute Research Awards 2010

These annual awards recognise and reward the achievements of the Institute’s most gifted researchers.

Early Career Researcher

Congratulations to Victoria Dalton from the Institute’s group located at the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation.

Victoria’s research has focused on the impact of early and late environmental challenges
during development on neurochemical brain systems relevant to psychosis. She has authored/co-authored seven papers (two published, four in press, one submitted), five conference presentations and obtained external grant funding to attend the Schizophrenia International Research Society Conference in Italy.

Victoria has been awarded $7,000 to support her schizophrenia research program.

Postgraduate Student

Congratulations to Natalie Beveridge from the Institute’s group located at the University of Newcastle.

Natalie’s research has focused on genetic and epigenetic influences in neuronal differentiation, human postnatal development and schizophrenia by investigating the expression
of microRNA. She has authored/co-authored three papers (one published, two in press) and three conference presentations.

Natalie has been awarded $3,000 to support her schizophrenia research program.

Research Paper

Congratulations to Paul Rasser from the Institute’s group located at the University of Newcastle.

His paper, published in Biological Psychiatry, has received an Impact Factor Award (for papers published in a peer-reviewed journal with an impact factor of greater than eight).

Frisoni G, Prestia A, Adorni A, Rasser P, Cotelli M, Soricelli A, Bonetti M, Geroldi C, Giannakopoulos P, Thompson P. In vivo neuropathology of cortical changes in elderly persons with schizophrenia. Biological Psychiatry 2009; 66: 578-585. [Impact Factor = 8.926]

Paul has been awarded $1,000 to support his schizophrenia research program.

Genetics Workshop


Genetics Workshop

A major highlight of the ASC2010 conference.

Prof. Cyndi Shannon Weickert.

One of the highlights and most talked about sessions of the ASC2010 was the Genetics Workshop held by Prof. Cyndi Shannon Weickert, Macquarie Group Foundation Chair of Schizophrenia Research and Prof. Lynn DeLisi from the Schizophrenia International Research Society (SIRS).

The workshop consisted of presentations from Australian and international experts, and practical discussion on ways genetic information can be used in schizophrenia research. It also provided practical education and training regarding the terms and concepts used in the evolving field of molecular genetics.

The workshop was sponsored by Australian Psychosis Research Network (APRN) and SIRS.

Research Aims to Improve Job Retention


Research Aims to Improve Job Retention

Collaborative program to help people with schizophrenia find and retain employment.

Prof. Eoin Killackey and Dr Melissa Green.

Institute scientists, Dr Melissa Green (University of NSW) and Associate Professor Robyn Langdon (Macquarie University) are collaborating with Associate Professor Eóin Killackey and a team of researchers from Orygen Youth Health Research Centre in Melbourne, to help people with schizophrenia find and retain employment.

Assoc. Prof. Killackey presented at the ASC2010 on the benefits of gaining employment for people with mental illness. Although up to 95% of people with schizophrenia are unemployed, the majority cite gaining employment as their top goal. Meaningful work is important for most people but for people with mental illness it is protective against homelessness, loneliness, poor physical health, drug use, and criminal involvement.

Through individual placement and support, Assoc. Prof. Killackey’s pilot research in Melbourne has had a 69% success rate with getting competitive jobs for young people who have experienced a first episode of psychosis. However, although stable on medication, many of these young people did not maintain their positions for longer than a few months, reporting difficulties with interpersonal skills in the workplace. There is not much evidence that medications can improve social cognition in schizophrenia but new psychosocial treatments are proving successful. International speaker at the ASC 2010 Prof. David Penn explained how new interventions targeting social cognition may be a useful adjunct to existing methods for vocational rehabilitation.

With Dr Green’s experience in social cognitive remediation, and Assoc. Prof. Langdon’s expertise in social cognition, a team of researchers in Sydney and Melbourne are planning to work with Assoc. Prof. Killackey to augment individual placement and support techniques for vocational rehabilitation with social cognitive skills training, in the hope that young people with an emerging psychotic disorder might find work and keep their positions. The study will use Prof. Penn’s training program to improve emotional perception (e.g., how we interpret other’s facial expressions), ‘Theory of Mind’ skills (i.e., the ability to understand the mental state of others) and Attributional Style (e.g., blaming others, jumping to conclusions).

The study is an important step towards decreasing the economic cost and improving the daily lives of people living with schizophrenia.

Has Research Been of Benefit to Patients with Schizophrenia?


Has Research Been of Benefit to Patients with Schizophrenia?

The ASC2010 Public Forum drew an audience of 300 people who wanted to get a greater insight into the illness and its issues.

“An absolutely top notch panel, intelligently moderated, delivered always with heart, and with sharp focus on the facts.”
Audience member

Kerry O’Brien, Prof. Vaughan Carr and Prof. Cyndi Shannon Weickert at the Public Forum.

Such an important topic drew Kerry O’Brien away from the 7.30 Report to moderate a prestigious panel of speakers and manage an interactive crowd of almost 300 people in Sydney on 21st September. The six panellists included patient ambassador Richard Schweizer, Australian of the Year Prof. Patrick McGorry, International speaker, Prof. David Penn, Institute CEO Prof. Vaughan Carr, Macquarie Group Foundation Chair of Schizophrenia Research Prof. Cyndi Shannon Weickert and Schizophrenia Fellowship of NSW representative Elaine Goddard.

The attentive audience included patients, carers, relatives and interested individuals who wanted to get a greater insight into the illness and its issues. Although the panellists held the floor for the first hour, the audience was chomping at the bit to have their say for the second half.

Issues discussed included the importance of early diagnosis, ongoing stigma and how that affects outcomes for patients and families, side effects of medications, problems for carers with privacy laws and lack of best practice services.

The answers to the question appeared to be Yes and No. There have been improvements through greater understanding, acknowledgement that schizophrenia is a physiologically based illness, new medications and new psychosocial treatments. However improved medications without as many side effects are needed and psychosocial treatments are not readily available.

And so much more needs to be done. Which is why the ASC 2010 conference held from 22-24 September has been such an important meeting of minds for those who have dedicated their lives to finding ways to prevent and cure schizophrenia. Lack of funding needs to be addressed in line with other illnesses and with mental health placed much higher on the national agenda than before, there is a strong push to make these changes.

For those who couldn’t attend and would like more information on the forum please contact Megan Diallo on

Australasian Schizophrenia Conference 2010


Australasian Schizophrenia Conference 2010

Highlights from the conference.

“ASC 2010 has matured over recent years and now reflects the depth of skill in the Australian research community”
Professor John McGrath, Queensland Brain Institute

“Young blood, young talent… Australia
is doing well in schizophrenia research!”

Professor Assen Jablensky, University of Western Australia

“ASC 2010 really showcased the wide variety of research into schizophrenia in Australia from basic science through to clinical and functional interventions. The schizophrenia research community in Australia is definitely punching above its weight”
A/Professor Eóin Killackey, Orygen Youth Health Research Centre

Prof. Marie Bashir AC CVO, Governor of NSW opens the confernence.

ASC 2010 has been a great conference, bringing together some of the best minds in schizophrenia research, not just from Australia
but internationally.

The conference was officially opened by Her Excellency, Prof. Marie Bashir AC CVO, Governor of NSW who commented on how far we have come in our understanding of schizophrenia and congratulated the participants on the impressive program, sending a strong message of encouragement to those working in this field.

With record attendance of over 350 delegates, the success of the conference is mainly due to the wide range of research covered from psychosocial treatments to molecular genetics.

Although many sessions were aimed at a specialized area, the plenary speakers brought an integrated view and showcased the bigger picture for schizophrenia research.

The work of the Schizophrenia Research Institute featured prominently at the conference.

Genetics research findings that were presented highlighted the extraordinary complexity of the new universe of molecular genetics, and work attempting to link these findings to aspects of brain functioning in schizophrenia is an exciting new frontier of discovery.

The conference highlighted the exceptional breadth and depth of schizophrenia-related research being conducted in Australia, to which the Schizophrenia Research Institute is a major contributor.

Special thanks are due to Director of Operations, Daren Draganic for his outstanding work behind the scenes in making the conference such a resounding success.

Largest National Study of Psychosis


Largest National Study of Psychosis

The Survey of High Impact Psychosis links with the Australian Schizophrenia Research Bank.

An overview of the second national epidemiology survey of the prevalence and profile of people with psychosis in Australia was presented at ASC 2010 by Prof. Vera Morgan (pictured right) from UWA School of Psychiatry & Clinical Neurosciences.

It has been 12 years since the first study was completed and the Survey of High Impact Psychosis (SHIP), funded by the Department of Health & Aging, commenced this year.

2,000 people with psychosis, aged 18-64, are currently being interviewed and assessed with a set questionnaire. These are people identified through inpatient and outpatient services and NGOs in Western Australian, New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia and Victoria.

The survey aims to identify modifiable risk factors for good outcome. It will examine factors related to social inclusion such as employment and other social roles, look at accommodation (including homelessness) and social isolation, and assess levels of disability in the activities of daily living. The survey includes a physical health assessment with testing for cardiovascular risk factors and an assessment of cognitive function. Information will also be collected on services for people with psychosis and areas of unmet need.

The survey includes separate ethics to collect blood for DNA analysis through the Australian Schizophrenia Research Bank.

Results will be published in July 2011 and the data will become available for use by other researchers in 2013.

Brain Stimulation Effective in Reducing Symptoms


Brain Stimulation Effective in Reducing Symptoms

People who still suffer hallucinations despite taking antipsychotic mediation could have an alternative therapy

Up to 30 percent of people with schizophrenia still experience hallucinations and delusions despite taking antipsychotic drugs. The Schizophrenia Library shows that brain stimulation can be effective in reducing these symptoms when drugs don’t work well enough.

Based on Australian and international studies, the Library shows that a certain type of stimulation called Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS) can reduce the severity of auditory hallucinations with the only side effect reported being a mild headache.

“For those patients whose auditory hallucinations are resistant to drug treatment, a course of rTMS treatment can have immediate short term benefits. There is enough evidence to demonstrate it to be effective but we need to check the maintenance of its effect and whether the patient may need booster treatments,” explains Prof. Vaughan Carr, CEO of the Schizophrenia Research Institute.

“It is non invasive and could be more widely available but administered in research settings as it needs further investigation.”

Evidence suggests that certain symptoms of schizophrenia are the result of over or under activity in particular brain regions which is linked to neurotransmitter dysfunction. For instance, through brain imaging techniques it has been found that during auditory hallucinations there is often increased activity in the temporal lobe. Imaging studies have also identified reduced activity in the frontal lobe when compared to people without schizophrenia.

This treatment is still experimental, only available in research settings and most studies have only assessed hallucinations immediately after the treatment has finished (up to 10 days), so longer term benefits have not been established.

Call for Research Volunteers

Prof. Colleen Loo & Dr Tom Weickert.

New brain stimulation treatments have been used in depression research successfully but more research is needed for treatment of schizophrenia.

The Schizophrenia Research Institute’s affiliated scientists Dr Tom Weickert, University of NSW, and Professor Colleen Loo, St George Hospital, are collaborating to investigate another method of stimulation – transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS).

“Trials are continuing in brain stimulation. We should be looking at stimulating more areas across the brain to see the different effects,” explains Prof. Loo.

“The studies so far are looking very promising and this is a developing area in psychiatric treatment. There is a lot of interest in trying to understand the underlying mechanisms of the disorder and how treatment work. But there is a long way to go and we need second generation trials to optimise how we’re doing it,” she said.

The trial will commence at NeuRA in the next few months and volunteers should contact Dr Ans Vercammen at

Prof. Colleen Loo is presenting at the  Australasian Schizophrenia Conference 2010 in a special symposium on brain stimulation in schizophrenia convened by Dr. Tom Weickert.

China Australia Collaboration


China Australia Collaboration

Schizophrenia Research Institute scientists from Wollongong are partnering with a large psychiatric hospital in Beijing, China.

Prof. Huang and Prof. Zhang.

Led by Prof. Xu-Feng Huang, Schizophrenia Research Institute researcher Ms Mei Han will travel to China to work with Prof. Xiang Yang Zhang at the Psychiatric Research Centre at Beijing Huilongguan Hospital, a psychiatric hospital with more than 1400 beds.

Studying 500 male patients with schizophrenia, the project aims to understand the role of the gene neuregulin-1 (Nrg1) variation in patients with schizophrenia.

Studies show that Nrg1 gene variation may play a significant role in the underlying causes of schizophrenia. Genetic studies show that a particular form of Nrg1 is present in 13% of cases of schizophrenia. Altered Nrg1 can lead to cognitive dysfunction particularly related to the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus. No studies have been done on whether patients with altered Nrg1 differ from others in their symptoms and response to antipsychotic drug treatment.

Understanding how Nrg1 gene variations affect symptoms and antipsychotic efficacy and side effects may help the team to develop new therapeutic targets for patients.

The research with leading expert Prof. Zhang who has access to a very large number of research volunteers will allow application to human studies of knowledge gained from basic
laboratory research. This Australian and China exchange program is a positive long-term collaboration for the Institute.

Meet Our Researchers


Meet Our Researchers

Alana Shepherd is a Research Assistant for the Schizophrenia Library.

Alana has a first class Honours in Neuroscience from the University of Sydney, has completed meta-analysis training and is also undertaking a PhD in schizophrenia at the University of New South Wales.

Q. How do you begin to compile such a comprehensive Library on schizophrenia?
A. It’s such an enormous task. We began by searching the top six most comprehensive online medical databases. Sorting the reviews we identified a network of 9 categories with over 400 topics.

Q. What has been the greatest challenge with the Library?
A. The sheer volume of information continues to be an ongoing challenge. We conduct searches every 3-4 months and each search is bringing about 10 new topics and we include everything that is relevant. To achieve this you need to be extremely organised with great attention to detail. You need a wide understanding of subject matter but you learn a lot through the nature of what you’re doing.

Q. When do you expect the Library will be complete?
A. We aim to have all 400 topics uploaded and have the Library at its most comprehensive by the end of 2011. However we will always be updating the information with the latest research so it will continue to grow.

Q. Why did you choose schizophrenia research?
A. It is an interesting illness – although we do know a lot, there is so much we don’t know so I see it as a real opportunity.