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NSW government boosts schizophrenia research

NSW Minister for Health and Minister for Medical Research, Jillian Skinner, announced an investment of $10 million for NeuRA – Neuroscience Research Australia – to complete the fit-out of the Margarete Ainsworth building at Randwick. This will strengthen research into mental health, including schizophrenia, and neurological conditions such as dementia, enhancing the work of both NeuRA and that of the Schizophrenia Research Institute (SRI).

“The importance of this research cannot be underestimated,” said Mrs Skinner. “Having a large-scale facility to support schizophrenia research will enhance collaboration and increase global interest in NSW as a centre of excellence in medical research.”

Prof Peter Schofield, NeuRA’s CEO said, “The new opportunities to tackle schizophrenia will be significant. The government’s support will also strengthen collaboration with researchers at the University of New South Wales.”

The $10 million capital grant matches the $10 million gift to NeuRA by philanthropist, Mrs Margarete Ainsworth, last year.

Prof Schofield thanked the Minister for recognising the opportunity for government and philanthropy to work together. On making her gift to NeuRA, Mrs Ainsworth said, “I feel one must help where one can. I have always supported mental illness as it is so terribly devastating to families.”

The Margarete Ainsworth Building forms the first phase of the Mindgardens Neurosciences Project*, a larger campus wide development to accelerate understanding of mental health and ageing disorders with better care and cure through world-class translational research.

“NeuRA is world-renowned for its schizophrenia research so consolidation will greatly enhance SRI’s research and give increased impetus to efforts to find better ways to treat and cure schizophrenia,” said SRI’s Chairman Norbert Schweizer.

The funding allows researchers to fast track the early stages of discovery in the laboratory, to widespread translational and clinical research and clinical trials, which will together unlock new treatments and possible cures.

“This is a timely opportunity to extend our capability and reputation as a world leader. We will build upon the talents and intellectual knowledge of a combined group of researchers,” said Prof Vaughan Carr, CEO, Schizophrenia Research Institute.

Prof Schofield said this announcement is a considerable step in enabling the full potential of the Mindgardens Neurosciences Project to be realised.

Clinical research leads to potential new treatments of schizophrenia
Two significant clinical trials to reduce the symptoms of schizophrenia are currently underway at NeuRA. The Canakinumab Add-on Treatment for Schizophrenia (CATS) Study will use a medication called canakinumab in addition to standard antipsychotic medication to reduce symptoms and improve thinking in people with schizophrenia who display harmful markers of an activated immune system activity in their blood.

The expectation is that this new medication, when used in addition to standard antipsychotics, will result in reduced symptoms and improved thinking abilities in people with schizophrenia.

In a separate trial, transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS), which is a very mild electrical stimulation to the scalp, is being tested as a means of improving thinking and reducing internal voices in people with schizophrenia.

Prof Schofield said they hope to learn how these new treatments may be used to improve thinking problems and further reduce symptoms. New treatments targeting thinking abilities are urgently needed since the current antipsychotic treatments do not restore people’s thinking abilities to what they were before they became ill. Many people with schizophrenia still experience persistent symptoms that prevent them from returning to society and getting on with their lives.

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* Mindgardens Neuroscience Project
The merger of NeuRA and the Schizophrenia Research Institute aligns with the blueprint for the proposed Mindgardens Neurosciences Project on the Randwick hospitals and University of New South Wales campuses. Mindgardens is a collaborative initiative that will bring the University and its world leading Schools of Psychiatry and Psychology and its research centres such as the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre and the Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing together with the Prince of Wales Hospital and research institutes including the Black Dog Institute and NeuRA.

Mindgardens aims to provide an accelerated understanding of mental health and ageing disorders with better care and cure outcomes through world-class translational research strategies. It also aims to provide a comprehensive, high quality ‘one-stop shop’ for patients and referring clinicians that has no parallel in the Southern Hemisphere. See mindgardens.org.au