We've received some updates from Monash Health about the progress of their research. Read on to find out more about what ONE IN FIVE is funding!
Understanding the function of a newly discovered candidate molecule for schizophrenia
Finding: In 2017, with support from one in five, our experiments were the first in the world to identify that a specific molecule called betacellulin, is reduced in both the brain and blood of people with schizophrenia.
Why is this important? Very little is known about how this molecule works in the brain, therefore understanding how it works will help us to better understand its relationship to schizophrenia and if it is a potential target for the development of diagnostic blood tests or novel treatments.
What is the next step? With continued support from one in five we have now designed a series of preclinical experiments to understand the function of this gene. We obtained a genetically modified mouse that has the betacellulin gene deleted. This will enable us to study the role it plays in brain development and function. In particular, we are interested in its effects on learning and memory, deficits in schizophrenia that have no current treatments. From this knowledge, we can then aim to design treatments targeted on the specific pathways through which betacellulin acts.
Preventing mental illness by combating a known environmental risk factor
Finding: In 2017/2018 we found in mice that a dietary supplement taken during pregnancy prevents brain disturbances caused by exposure to infection.
Why is this important? Infection during pregnancy is a known risk factor for the development of a number of mental disorders including Autism spectrum disorder and schizophrenia in offspring. It is thought that activation of the mother’s immune system disturbs brain development in the baby. Preventing exposure to infection, such as colds, during pregnancy would be a difficult task, but taking a dietary supplement to dampen the effects of the infection has the potential to be effective. Dietary supplements have been effective in reducing spina bifida and have the potential to reduce neuropsychiatric disorders.
What is the next step? With continued support from one in five we now need to test the efficacy of this dietary supplement in preventing the behavioural disturbances that arise due to exposure to infection during pregnancy using our animal models. Once proven, we can then transition our animal model findings to the obstetric clinic to incorporate our supplement into current pregnancy supplement regimens.
Trialling a new drug to treat the memory deficits associated with schizophrenia
Finding: Following 10 years of preclinical research we found that the female sex hormone estrogen improves memory processing. Estrogen, itself cannot be given to patients as is has undesirable effects on the breast and uterus. However, drugs called SERMs (selective estrogen receptor modulators) have been designed to block the effects of estrogen in breast and uterus, but act like estrogen in the brain. In 2017 we showed that these drugs also benefit memory processing in the brain.
Translation to the clinic: In 2018 we received funding to trial the SERM, bazedoxifene, in women with schizophrenia to improve memory outcomes.
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