Pinpointing new risk factors associated with schizophrenia will be part of the research focus of Australia's first Chair in Schizophrenia Epidemiology and Population Health at UNSW.
An internationally recognised schizophrenia researcher, Professor Vaughan Carr, who has 30 years' experience in mental health research, has this week started in the new five-year position at the University. He will continue his role as CEO of the Schizophrenia Research Institute.
The Chair will be based at the Mental Health Unit at St Vincent's Hospital in Sydney and is a joint project between the Schizophrenia Research Institute and UNSW, with funding of $2.125 million from NSW Health.
Professor Carr will be working closely with health and education departments to set up record linkage through their databases, to determine risk factors and track health outcomes over time.
"What we can achieve on a large scale is the capacity to link various steps in a person's life - birth, early childhood medical records, educational and behavioural milestones," he said.
"From this information we could uncover new risk factors, potential relationships between them, such as between pregnancy complications, school performance and behaviour problems, and the subsequent development of schizophrenia or other mental health problems."
Professor Carr already oversees a feasibility project for the Schizophrenia Research Institute for a longitudinal study of children, using existing information in education databases to determine risk and resiliance in adolescence.
Head of UNSW's School of Psychiatry, Scientia Professor Philip Mitchell, said a sound understanding of all risk factors - genetic, psychological and social - will be necessary to tackle the disease.
"This is a very exciting partnership that will achieve great results in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of schizophrenia," Professor Mitchell said.
The appointment cements UNSW's reputation as a world leader in the field. The University is already associated with another key appointment, Cyndi Shannon Weickert, who is the Macquarie Bank Foundation Chair of Schizophrenia Research. Professor Shannon Weickert will be featured on ABC Television's Australian Story next Monday (11 May) at 8pm.
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Photos courtesy of the Schizophrenia Research Institute