NeuRA Magazine #26

News

NOVEL TREATMENT FOR INFLAMMATION INDUCED DEPRESSION

Dr Adam Walker recently joined NeuRA as a Research Fellow and Senior Lecturer at the UNSW School of Psychiatry to lead key projects investigating the effects of neuro inflammation on neuropsychiatric disorders. Dr Walker’s research programs will revolve around the idea that the immune system and the brain talk to each other and are both highly involved in regulating how the other functions.

He will look at how inflammation in the brain can lead to the onset of a range of psychiatric symptoms including depression and anxiety related behaviours, and poor cognition which can potentially push an individual into developing a chronic psychiatric illness.

One of his key projects will look at identifying novel treatments for inflammation induced depression. “Current treatments for depression are ineffective for some people,” says Dr Walker.

“We know that in numerous studies, anti-inflammatories are playing a role to reduce symptoms of depression in patients.

“We’re looking at ways to target the blood-brain barrier and develop a novel antidepressant.”

In a research partnership with Professor Cyndi Shannon Weickert at NeuRA, Dr Walker will investigate the cause of the neuro inflammation in some people with schizophrenia.

“Clearly the brain and the immune system are talking to each other in this case, but the cause is unknown. This is an interesting opportunity to look at how the brain and the immune system communicate with each other and to hopefully help some people through our research,” says Dr Walker.

To find out more about Dr Walker’s research projects including depression and mood changes associated with cancer, please visit his research page at www.neura.edu.au/staff/dr-adam-walker

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Exploring the electrophysiology and heritability of wellbeing and resilience

The majority of adults without a mental illness still experience poor mental health, indicating a need for a better understanding of what separates mental wellness from mental illness. One way of exploring what separates those with good mental health from those with poor mental health is to use electroencephalography (EEG) to explore differences in brain activity within the healthy population. Previous research has shown that EEG measures differ between clinical groups and healthy participants, suggesting that these measures are useful indicators of mental functioning. Miranda Chilver’s current project aims to examine how different EEG measures relate to each other and to test if they can be used to predict mental wellbeing. Furthermore, she hopes to distinguish between EEG markers of symptoms including depression and anxiety, and markers of positive symptoms of wellbeing to better understand how wellbeing can exist independently of mental illness. This will be done by obtaining measures of wellbeing and depression and anxiety symptoms using the COMPAS-W and DASS-42 questionnaires, respectively. Because EEG measures and mental wellbeing are both impacted by genetics as well as the environment, Miranda will also be testing whether the links found between EEG activity and Wellbeing are driven primarily by heritable or by environmental factors. This information will inform the development of future interventions that will aim to improve wellbeing in the general population. To achieve these goals, the project will assess the relationship between EEG activity and wellbeing, and between EEG and depression and anxiety symptoms to first test whether there is an association between EEG and mental health. Second, the heritability of the EEG, wellbeing, depression, and anxiety will be assessed to determine the extent to which these variables are explained through heritable or environmental factors. Finally, a model assessing the overlap between the heritable versus environmental contributions to each measure will be developed to assess whether genetics or environment drive the relationship between EEG and mental health. This project is based on a sample of over 400 healthy adult twins from the Australian TWIN-E study of resilience led by Dr Justine Gatt. This research will pave the way for improved mental health interventions based on individual needs.
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