$1.75 million NHMRC grant for a world first - the Australian Schizophrenia Research Bank (ASRB)

December 02, 2005

In a world first, the National Health and Medical Research Council has awarded a coalition of researchers from New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia $1.75 million to establish a national schizophrenia research bank.

The coalition is led by NISAD's (Neuroscience Institute of Schizophrenia and Allied Disorders) Scientific Director, Professor Vaughan Carr.

The bringing together of current research efforts in to a nationally coordinated body will radically strengthen Australia's place in the world schizophrenia research effort.

"This unique facility will expand and link existing programs of infrastructure from WA, Queensland and NSW as a 'one stop' shop to support schizophrenia research on a national basis" said Professor Vaughan Carr, NISAD Scientific Director.

"NISAD has directed much of its efforts to establish research infrastructure in New South Wales. This grant will bring together the important work of the Hunter DNA Bank, the NISAD Schizophrenia Register and the NISAD Virtual Brain Bank in a national facility." he said

Schizophrenia represents one of the most perplexing and challenging problems confronting researchers and health care providers today.

With a prevalence of 4 per 1000, significant advances in schizophrenia research have been limited by the difficulty in a achieving sufficiently large samples of sufferers and their families who have been well characterised in terms of clinical, cognitive and neuroanatomical evaluations in order to identify the causal role of multiple genetic factors.

"The national bank will be available to both Australian and international researchers and will support research from the clinic to the bench top" Professor Carr said

The wide variety of research possible through the discovery of molecular or other targets for therapeutic intervention, will allow for the generation of shared commercialisation opportunities for Australian researchers.

"The large cohort that this bank will provide means there will be sufficient statistical power to allow Australian researchers to unlock important doors using new technologies available to neuroscience." he said

For example, it will be possible to specify certain sample characteristics of sufferers (such as age, gender, symptoms) and determine whether these are associated with particular anatomical changes or gene expressions.

The facility will be housed at the Centre for Mental Health Studies in Newcastle and up to 15 research officers, IT specialists and technicians will be employed across the three States to run the facility.
Excerpt from the application:

The specific aims include:
1. To develop a Research Bank with comprehensive, cross-referenced data from a large sample of volunteers with schizophrenia (N=1,000 initially) and their unaffected parents (N=2,000 initially) as well as healthy volunteers (N=100 for MRI scanning) of comparable age profile. In the event that one parent is unavailable, data will be gathered from one unaffected parent and two unaffected siblings per proband. Data collection will include:
i. Clinical and cognitive characterisation of schizophrenia probands and their unaffected first-degree relatives.
ii. Blood banking involving DNA extraction and the establishment of immortal cell lines from schizophrenia probands and their unaffected first-degree relatives.
iii. Structural MRI brain scans of schizophrenia probands using standardised imaging and analysis methodology.
2. To provide Australian and international researchers with access to this enabling facility, which contains comprehensive, cross-referenced data, and is able to support schizophrenia research across the clinical, cognitive, genetic, brain imaging and linked domains. This will enable research questions that require large sample sizes to be addressed by Australian researchers, particularly those who would not normally have ready access to clinical populations.

Research Australia

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