A Schizophrenia Research Institute neuroscientist based at the University of Newcastle has been awarded an international grant to support research aimed at developing better treatment for schizophrenia.
Dr Murray Cairns has received a Young Investigator Award from the US-based National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression (NARSAD), one of only two awarded to Australian researchers this year.
Speaking during Schizophrenia Awareness Week, Dr Cairns said schizophrenia was a devestating mental illness and developing better treatment and preventiative strategies was essential.
"Schizophrenia affects nearly one in every 100 people in Australia at some stage of their life. It is one of the major causes of long-term disability in the world and my project aims to further understand the disorder," Dr Cairns said.
"Through recent studies of gene profiling, we already know that in cases of schizophrenia hundreds of genes are altered. This begs the questions: why do genes alter and what are the mechanisms that alter genes?
"One possibility is that this is caused by changes in small, non-coding RNA molecules derived from so-called 'junk DNA' because it does not code for protein.
"But they have an important function in regulating and coordinating the activity of hundreds of other genes that do code for proteins by a process known as Post Transcriptional Gene Silencing (PTGS).
"My new research will investigate the role of PTGS in schizophrenia and test a hypothesis that these non-coding RNA associated pathways are dysregulated in schizophrenia.
"This project should gain a better understanding of the pathophysiology of the disorder and bring us closer to developing better treatment and prevention strategies."
Dr Cairns has been provided US$60,000 through NARSAD to conduct his research at the School of Biomedical Science at the University of Newcastle. His work is supported locally by the University's School of Biomedical Science and the Schizophrenia Research Institute.
NARSAD provides support for the most promising young scientists conducting neurobiological research on schizophrenia, major affective disorders and other serious mental illnesses.