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Boost to schizophrenia research

Monday, 8 October , 2007

Reporter: Lindy Kerin
MARK COLVIN: Schizophrenia research in Australia got a much needed boost today with the appointment of Professor Cyndi Shannon Weickert as Australia's first chairwoman of schizophrenia research.

The Schizophrenia Research Institute, the Prince of Wales Medical Research Institute, the University of New South Wales, Macquarie Bank Foundation and New South Wales Health have joined forces to back the project.

It'll examine the way that schizophrenia affects brain development, in the hope of finding treatments for the 40,000 to 50,000 Australians afflicted by the disorder.

Lindy Kerin asked Professor Shannon Weickert what drew her to the field.

CYNDI SHANNON WEICKERT: I am on a quest to find out what causes someone to suffer from schizophrenia. And I started on this quest over 20 years ago, and this is because I watched my healthy twin brother change into someone unfamiliar to me, someone that retreated from his friends, and no longer tried in school, someone that I found out was strange to me, but was diagnosed with schizophrenia - a disease he would never recover from.

And I was horrified by this and I decided that something had to be done.

LINDY KERIN: And so what's the research that you're carrying out at the moment?

CYNDI SHANNON WEICKERT: Well, I've used schizophrenia as a disease of adolescent brain development and there's important implications of that. One is you can view the disease from a molecular perspective, one where the molecular cascades that cause the brain to mature, actually fail in the brains of patients with schizophrenia.

So, as the brain development unfolds, they're normal up until a point when their final maturational events occur during teenage life. And what the implications of that is that if we can correct that derailment of brain development, then we can intercede in the disease process at a critical time.

And so, understanding the disease at the molecular and cellular level and viewing it as a cellular development that is what's really key about my research that my lab is taking.

LINDY KERIN: And so this is the new lab. How significant is that, that there is a centre for research into schizophrenia?

CYNDI SHANNON WEICKERT: It's happening at the right time and the right place.

It's the right time in terms of research because there's been a watershed of new information on how the brain works at the molecular level over the past two decades.

We've also learned how to use a person's own genetic code to inform us about risk, and then we kind of can put together the biological markers, the psychological markers, we can better and better identify those people that are at risk, and that we can use this information, we can link this information to better treatments. But we need research to be able to do that.

So, the outcome of those research studies will inform the doctors to help make more personalised medicine, more individually appropriate medicine earlier and earlier on in the disease course available to people.

But we're not ready to do that just yet, we need to take advantage of all the latest developments in molecular medicine and link them to the patients to be able to inform the doctor.

LINDY KERIN: What is it that's making it an Australian first?

CYNDI SHANNON WEICKERT: It's this synergy between the different institutions, the university, the government and the corporate to invest in such a substantial amount - $8 million is substantial.

However, it does represent less than five per cent of what schizophrenia costs Australians annually. So we need to keep investing in research to relieve the burden of schizophrenia, the way that it's felt to society, and to the sufferers, and their families.

MARK COLVIN: Professor Cyndi Shannon Weickert, Chairwoman of Schizophrenia Research at the Prince of Wales Medical Research Institute, with Lindy Kerin.


Iemma launches $11m schizophrenia centre
Mon Oct 8, 2007

New South Wales Premier Morris Iemma has unveiled a major schizophrenia research centre at Sydney's Prince of Wales Hospital.

The $11 million facility will include an evidence library that draws together new information and advances on the illness.

Doctors will then be able to draw on the information to better support patients.

Mr Iemma says the centre will continue the quest for new knowledge and directions for better treatment.

The State Government has donated $2.5 million towards the lab and the Macquarie Bank is also providing a grant of more than $1 million.
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