NeuRA hosts Professorial Chair in schizophrenia research

The Iemma Government is taking another step in the right direction in tackling schizophrenia with the appointment of Australia’s first Professorial Chair in Schizophrenia Research.

Minister for Health, John Hatzistergos, today officially announced the appointment of the highly respected US researcher, Professor Cynthia Shannon Weickert to the new post. Mr Hatzistergos made the announcement as part of Mental Health Week, saying that real progress was being made to find answers to schizophrenia.

“This is a real coup for NSW. Professor Shannon Weickert is highly respected as one of the world’s leading researchers into this debilitating disease,” Mr Hatzistergos said. “Australia’s leading role in the international quest to find a cure for schizophrenia has been further boosted with the appointment of the nation’s first Professorial Chair Schizophrenia Research.” he said.

Professor Shannon Weickert, formerly of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) in Bethesda, USA, has worked alongside some of the world’s leading minds in the field of schizophrenia and was selected after an extensive international search.

NISAD (Neuroscience Institute of Schizophrenia Research and Allied Disorders), with its partners, University of New South Wales (UNSW) and Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA) said they were delighted Professor Shannon-Weickert had agreed to take up the position.

Professor Shannon Weickert will conduct her research from newly-refurbished laboratories at NeuRA and will officially take up her appointment on December 1 this year. “I know that Professor Shannon Weickert has a deep personal commitment to make a difference and help find a breakthrough for this debilitating disease. ,” Mr Hatzistergos said.

“She is an excellent choice to pioneer the work of Australia’s first Schizophrenia Research Chair and the NSW Government is very pleased to have been able to contribute ongoing funding to facilitate this important appointment,” he said.

In March 2004, the Premier as Health Minister announced an annual $500,000 grant to establish the chair with the balance of the $1.6 million per year funding to be provided by NISAD and its partners UNSW and NeuRA – totalling an $8 million research commitment over five years.

NISAD Scientific Director, Professor Vaughan Carr, said Professor Shannon Weickert’s research has focused on multiple areas of molecular biology related to schizophrenia and to brain development.

Professor Carr said her work had impressed one of the world’s most eminent researchers who she worked alongside at NIMH (USA), Dr Daniel Weinberger, who described her as “the most talented, insightful, intelligent, innovative and inspiring’ of all the post-graduate fellows he had mentored at the NIMH over 30 years.

“Cyndi’s appointment is the beginning of a very exciting chapter in NISAD’s effort to find a means to cure and prevent this devastating disease. We are thrilled to have attracted a scientist with such strong credentials,” Professor Carr said.

“Through Professor Shannon Weickert’s appointment,” said Professor Peter Schofield, Executive Director of Neuroscience Research Australia, “NeuRA’s expansion into mental illness research will provide us with an enhanced understanding of what causes schizophrenia at the cellular and molecular level.

“The cause of schizophrenia is unknown but both genetic and environmental aspects contribute to its pathology. Cyndi’s research will have a major influence on understanding how genetic alterations can lead to cellular and behavioural deficits in patients with schizophrenia. This, in turn, will lead to better treatments which will help reduce the enormous burden of this disease,” he said.

UNSW Vice-Chancellor, Professor Fred Hilmer, said: “UNSW is delighted to host the NISAD Chair with our partner institute NeuRA. Our leadership in the area of brain sciences is a key reason we were successful in the bid for this position, which I understand is not only Australia’s first Chair dedicated to schizophrenia research, but one of the few worldwide. We are also very pleased to welcome a researcher of the calibre of Professor Shannon Weickert.

“The University’s strong commitment to advancing mental health and neuroscience research is evidenced by our contribution of $500,000 per annum towards this program.”