20 November 1998

Psychiatric research group receives international recognition

Researchers at the Queensland Centre for Schizophrenia Research (QCSR) at Wolston Park Hospital have been awarded a prestigious Stanley International Research Centre grant - the first to any research group in the Southern Hemisphere.

The grant, for US$100,000 per year for three years, will support the Centre's multi-disciplinary research in schizophrenia. The most common serious mental illness, schizophrenia affects one person in 100. It can start at any age, but most commonly begins in late teenage years or early 20s.

Centre director Associate Professor John McGrath of the University of Queensland's Psychiatry Department said researchers were delighted to receive the recognition.

The Theodore and Vada Stanley Foundation is run in partnership with the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) and the NAMI Research Institute in the United States. The NAMI program began in 1989 to increase research on the causes and treatment of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder (manic depression) and related disorders.

In becoming a Stanley International Research Centre the QCSR becomes affiliated with an eminent group of research centres in Europe and North America, allowing world-wide collaboration in many areas of schizophrenia research.

Dr McGrath said the Centre took a multi-disciplinary approach to research because schizophrenia was a multi-faceted disorder in its origins, manifestations, course and treatment.

"We are a long way from optimal treatment and from ultimately finding a way to prevent schizophrenia," he said.

"There is good progress in the identification of genetic and non-genetic risk factors related to schizophrenia.

"Dr Bryan Mowry leads a large team searching for genes that increase the risk of schizophrenia. Various QCSR staff are also searching for non-genetic risk factors that are associated with schizophrenia, such as prenatal exposure to influenza epidemics, and being born in winter or spring.

"The centre is actively collaborating with groups from Australia, the United States, Fiji, Malaysia and Europe."

The QCSR was established in 1987 as the Clinical Studies Unit, and subsequently has built a national and international reputation for multi-disciplinary schizophrenia research.

The Centre's logo incorporates a symbolic representation of a tree, and graphical references to a nerve and a head or brain.

"We wanted to include a tree in the logo, because of the powerful symbolism of the tree in art and science over many centuries - the tree of knowledge, and the tree of life. Another reason was that trees grow, just as our understanding of schizophrenia grows," Dr McGrath said.

Current projects conducted by the Centre include:

o a $25,000 project on the neuropathology of people with schizophrenia, based in the University's Physiology and Pharmacology Department;
o a $150,000 project on the epidemiology of schizophrenia. This project is building a large database on factors relating to schizophrenia, for example the season of birth of people with schizophrenia, and pre-maternal exposure to influenza;
o a $150,000 genetics Australia-wide research project involving twins, one of whom in each group has a psychiatric illness;
o neural culture work with Griffith University;
o participating in the National Mental Health survey of mental illness to provide a snapshot of psychosis in Australia. The survey of 2500 people includes 300 people interviewed by the QCSR.

Media contact: Dr McGrath, telephone 07 3271 8595.