An Ipswich researcher has been recognised globally for his ground-breaking research into how to prevent schizophrenia, a complex brain disorder which affects about one in 100 Australians.
Professor John McGrath is the Director of Epidemiology and Clinical Trials at the Queensland Centre for Mental Health Research based at The Park Centre for Mental Health in Wacol.
He leads a collaborative research program — involving colleagues in Australia, Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands — to find better treatments for psychotic disorders by exploring environmental and potentially changeable risk factors linked to schizophrenia, including the impact of low vitamin D, infectious agents, stress and cannabis.
The West Moreton Health researcher has been awarded the New York-based Brain & Behaviour Research Foundation’s Lieber Prize for Outstanding Achievement in Schizophrenia Research — one of the most prestigious international prizes in this field.
He is only the second researcher working at an Australian institute to win the award in its 32 year history.
Professor McGrath said mental ill-health in Australia could have lifetime emotional, social and financial consequences for both the individuals and their families and had a significant impact on the health system and the economy.
“As a researcher, I have been interested in finding potentially modifiable risk factors for schizophrenia,” Professor McGrath said.
“While we need better treatments for those with this poorly understood group of disorders, we also need to prevent people developing the disorder in the first place, and this has been the focus of my research.
“I am 100 per cent certain there are better schizophrenia treatments out there waiting to be discovered.
“My research work isn’t a short game; this will take decades, but I know it will be worth it.
“I am very grateful to receive international recognition for something I am passionate about, and a prize that will boost the important and impactful research we are doing at West Moreton Health.”
In addition to $73,000 he receives for the Lieber Prize, Professor McGrath is tasked with awarding the $30,000 Maltz Prize for Innovative and Promising Schizophrenia Research to fellow researcher, Dr James Kesby.
Dr James Kesby began his career with a PhD scholarship from the Ipswich Hospital Foundation in 2006 and still works closely with researchers from the Queensland Centre for Mental Health Research.
Dr Kesby is focusing on ways to improve long-term outcomes for people with schizophrenia by studying decision making skills and how levels of the chemical dopamine contribute to a decline in decision-making.
“Understanding why symptoms occur will help us identify better treatments to improve the lives of those with schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders, with the ultimate aim to help people before they develop symptoms,” Dr Kesby said.
“I have had a longstanding and fantastic relationship with the Queensland Centre for Mental Health Research, West Moreton Health and the Ipswich Hospital Foundation and am tremendously grateful for their support to work alongside inspirational researchers in this important field.”
Dr James Kesby
West Moreton Health Board Chair Michael Willis said West Moreton Health acknowledged the value of research.
“As technologies develop, it is increasingly difficult for individual scientists to conduct groundbreaking research on their own, so we rely on partnerships with academia, industry and partners like the Ipswich Hospital Foundation to improve the health of our population,” Mr Willis said.
“I congratulate John and James for their accolades and eagerly await the practical translation of their findings.”