Schizophrenia is a mental illness that emerges in adolescence or young adulthood and affects approximately 1 in 100 people in Australia and worldwide. It causes difficulties in thinking and unusual experiences such as hearing unpleasant voices or having false and sometimes bizarre beliefs. People with schizophrenia often avoid family and friends, lack motivation and are often unable to work.
While the exact causes are not known, we believe that genetic and environmental influences combine to create abnormal changes in brain development that cause the symptoms of schizophrenia.
Current treatments are designed to suppress these symptoms and do not target the cause of the disorder. These drugs only partially relieve symptoms and can produce unwanted side effects.
We are currently investigating several new treatments, including the use of an immune treatment, with the aim of improving symptoms and cognitive functioning.
Together with Professor Peter Schofield (NeuRA) and Professor Philip Mitchell (Black Dog Institute), our group is investigating the genetic contributors to bipolar disorder using Australian families with multiple individuals who have been diagnosed with the disorder.
The group previously identified a bipolar susceptibility locus located on chromosome 15 in a pooled analysis of 35 families. More detailed analysis of this region has identified a single gene, which confers an increased susceptibility to both bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, and has also been implicated as a risk factor for autism.
The group is now aiming to understand how alterations in ST8SIA2 translate into an increased genetic susceptibility by characterising alterations in the DNA, RNA and protein product of this gene and its interaction partners in patients with either bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.
Epigenetics is the study of how our environment influences the expression of our genes. My group has found a link between early life experiences and attention. Exposure to traumatic experiences in the early stages of life, including abuse or neglect, parental divorce or mental illness, and poverty, are known to influence the development of some mental illnesses. These early experiences also […]