A new study led by the University of Newcastle's Priority Research Centre for Brain and Mental Health Research is working towards identifying early intervention strategies for young people at high risk of developing schizophrenia.
The study of more than 500 young people from across NSW, including rural and remote communities, will involve the collection of brain imaging and brain function data using state-of-the-art technology.
Chief Investigator, Associate Professor Ulrich Schall, said the study would examine the brain development of 12-25 year olds considered at high risk of developing schizophrenia.
"Schizophrenia is the most severe form of mental illness and there is currently no cure for the debilitating condition," Associate Professor Schall said.
"Understanding the changes in the brains of young people who are developing a severe mental illness will help us to track its impact on social functioning and school performance.
"If we can identify changes in brain function as they begin, we are more likely to develop early intervention programs and more effective treatment."
The study is one of 17 University of Newcastle projects awarded funding by the National Health and Medical Research Council for 2009.
The University's Centre for Rural and Remote Mental Health (CRRMH), the Schizophrenia Research Institute, the University of NSW and the South Eastern Sydney and Illawarra Area Health Services will also take part in the study.
Dr Helen Stain, co-investigator and Senior Lecturer in Research at CRRMH, said the new study would complement a range of research they are currently undertaking across NSW.
"This cutting edge research is a great addition to our program of child and youth research that aims to improve the mental health of rural and remote communities," Dr Stain said.
"In particular, the new study will build on the important work of the Detection, Evaluation and Psychological Therapy (DEPTh) project, which is testing the effectiveness of various therapies in addressing psychosis."
The Priority Research Centre for Brain and Mental Health Research draws together researchers with specialist knowledge in areas including neuroscience, cognitive science, clinical psychology, psychiatry and neurology. The Centre conducts research in conjunction with the Hunter Medical Research Institute's Brain and Mental Health Program.
Dr Ulrich Schall is available for interview after 1pm today.