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University Of New South Wales: Schizophrenia research led by UNSW academics receives $3m in NSW Health grants

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UNSW Sydney researchers will aim to provide a better understanding of brain inflammation in people with schizophrenia and speed up the development of new treatments for schizophrenia after they were awarded $3 million in funding from NSW Health.

The novel projects received the grants under the Government’s NSW Schizophrenia Research Grants Program. People with schizophrenia have a reduced life expectancy of about 20 years less – and a suicide rate 12 times higher – than the general population.

Scientia Professor Vlado Perkovic, Dean of UNSW Medicine & Health said the funding would make a significant difference in improving the lives of those who are affected.

“I congratulate the researchers on their funding success and commend their pursuit of this unique research. These projects will further expand our limited knowledge on schizophrenia and ultimately lead to better approaches to treatments for people with schizophrenia,” he said.

Reducing brain inflammation in schizophrenia
Professor Cynthia Shannon Weickert at the School of Psychiatry at UNSW Medicine & Health and NSW Chair of Schizophrenia Research at NeuRA will receive $2 million to co-lead a collaborative project aimed at gaining a deeper understanding of the impact of brain inflammation in people with schizophrenia.

“Current treatments for schizophrenia are ineffective in approximately 30 per cent of patients and can have severe side effects. There is an urgent need to characterise the molecular changes that occur in the schizophrenia brain so we can develop more effective treatments,” Prof. Weickert said.

“We have identified that people with schizophrenia can be categorised based on their state of brain inflammation. This research will provide a deeper understanding of the impact of neuroinflammation in the schizophrenia, particularly in the context of excitatory and dopamine”.

It’s hoped the project will help identify new drug targets for schizophrenia, assist in the development of new drug compounds and facilitate improved clinical trials for new medicines.

“Our next step will be to find the trigger for brain inflammation in schizophrenia,” Prof. Weickert said.

The joint-project also includes Professor Tim Karl and Dr. Rose Chesworth at Western Sydney University and Professor Kelly Newell at the University of Wollongong.

Understanding the biology of the brain
Dr Tertia Purves-Tyson, Research Fellow at NeuRA and Conjoint Senior Lecturer at UNSW Medicine & Health has been awarded $1 million to learn more about the molecular underpinnings of schizophrenia to help develop more effective pharmaceutical treatments.

Schizophrenia is devastating to those diagnosed with the illness and their families, Dr Purves-Tyson said.

Current treatments only improve psychosis, are not effective for everyone and have some serious side effects. They also do not improve cognitive problems that can prevent people with schizophrenia from holding down a job, or the negative symptoms that make social interactions and meaningful relationships difficult for people with schizophrenia, leading to social isolation.

“We do not understand the biology in the brain that causes the set of symptoms defined as schizophrenia and therefore we cannot treat them effectively. The aim of my research is to expand the knowledge of the neurobiology in the brain related to the different symptoms that are collectively defined as schizophrenia,” Dr Purves-Tyson said.

“My aim is to discover new fundamental knowledge of molecular targets for the development of new treatments for schizophrenia.”

The project will include understanding the molecular mechanisms of two drugs that have shown promise for improving the psychosis, negative symptoms and the cognitive difficulties experienced by people with schizophrenia.

“Understanding how, and in who, these drugs bring about their benefits will both expand our understanding of the neurobiology of schizophrenia to identify novel treatments as well as enable decisions to improve the efficacy of these treatments,” Dr Purves-Tyson said.

“My hope is that we can provide knowledge that will allow clinical colleagues to prioritise which new interventions to test in clinical trials.”