Research focus

The major research focus of the CTN is to translate the neurobiological basis of the three major diseases, schizophrenia, obesity and colon cancer, from animal models to humans.

Our research

Our schizophrenia research aims to investigate possible causal mechanisms of schizophrenia and to develop more effective antipsychotic drug treatments. In order to achieve these aims, there are 3 main foci of our research:

  1. we use animal models to investigate the role of specific genes and environmental factors on brain development, plasticity and behaviour;
  2. we use human post-mortem brain tissue to establish the neurochemical changes occurring in the schizophrenia brain; and
  3. we investigate the mechanisms of current antipsychotic drugs and test the potential of novel antipsychotic treatments in our animal models. We have developed two chemical compounds in collaboration with Profs Pyne and Kelso in Chemistry. We are at the validation stage using animal tissue. We will initiate clinical trials if these compounds are successfully patented. In collaboration with Prof Pai (GSM), we will work together to reduce the side effects of antipsychotic-induced metabolic disorders.

About Schizophrenia

What is Schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia is a debilitating brain disorder that highly impairs normal brain function and the patients’ interaction with the environment. Schizophrenia often strikes during adolescence or early adulthood and can last for a lifetime as current treatments are only partially effective, and in some cases they have no therapeutic effect at all. Schizophrenia severely impacts on the lives of sufferers and their families, and imposes a considerable financial burden of over $1.5 billion yearly on the Australian community.

How many people develop Schizophrenia?
About one in one hundred people will develop schizophrenia.
30% of schizophrenia patients will attempt suicide, 5 percent die.

What are the symptoms?
Schizophrenia is associated with positive, negative and cognitive symptoms:

  • Positive symptoms (psychotic symptoms that most individuals do not normally experience) include delusions, foremost auditory hallucinations and confused thinking
  • Negative symptoms (loss or absence of normal traits or abilities) include emotional flattening, social withdrawal, poverty of speech, anhedonia and lack of motivation.
  • Cognitive symptoms include impairments in learning, memory and problem solving

What causes Schizophrenia?
While we do not know what causes schizophrenia, evidence suggests that abnormalities in brain development contribute to the disorder. These are likely to be due to a combination of hereditable genetic and/or environmental factors.

Our research

At the CTN our obesity research aims to investigate possible causal mechanisms of obesity and to develop more effective prevention and treatments. To achieve these aims, there are 2 main foci of our research:

  1. we use diet-induced obesity mouse models to investigate the mechanisms of the development of obesity, particularly in the neuroendocrine regulation of food intake; and
  2. we search for better strategies to prevent and treat obesity and its related metabolic disorders and implement these strategies in both mouse models and in human trials.

About obesity

What is Obesity?
Obesity is a serious, chronic medical condition with an excessive body fat accumulation to the extent that causes an adverse affect on health. Obesity is a major health problem in developed countries including Australia.

How many people develop Obesity?
Obesity afflicted 3.24 million Australians in 2005 and this figure could double to 7.2 million (28.9% of population) by 2025 (Diabetes Australia, 2006).

What are the symptoms?
Obesity is strongly associated with a number of chronic diseases such as type II diabetes, certain cancers, breathing difficulties during sleep, high blood pressure and coronary atherosclerotic heart diseases

What causes Obesity?
Obesity is a result of a combination of excessive food intake, reduced physical activity, and genetic susceptibility.

There are also a limited number of cases due solely to genetics, other medical reasons (e.g. polycystic ovaries), or psychiatric illness.

Our research

The main objective of our studies linking obesity and colon cancer are to identify risk factors in obesity which lead to colon cancer using cell culture and animal models. These risk factors could include elevated blood levels of insulin, insulin-like growth factor, leptin, interleukin-6 and tumour necrosis factor-alpha, and decreased blood level of adiponectin. We hope to demonstrate an increased incidence of colon cancer in an animal model for obesity. We will examine whether high fat diet-induced obese mice have a higher incidence of colon cancer when exposed to carcinogens and aim to implement prevention strategies for obesity-associated colon cancer risk. We will test whether dietary fibre and supplementation of adiponectin can prevent obesity-associated colon cancer.

About colon cancer

What is colon cancer?
Colon (or colorectal) cancer is the uncontrolled growth of cells in the colon, rectum and appendix. It is the third leading cause of cancer-related death. After it invades other organs, the 5 year survival rate is less than 10%. Thus, early detection is vital to allow surgical removal of the cancer.

How many people develop colon cancer in Australia?
Colon cancer is the third most common cancer in Australia. The occurrence rate of colon cancer is about 1/17 in males and 1/26 in females in Australia.

What are the symptoms?
The symptoms of colon cancer are not specific and not diagnostic. The common symptoms include:

  • Local symptoms: abdominal discomfort, change in bowel habit, thin stool, dark or bright red blood in the stool.
  • General status: anaemia, fatigue, pale skin, fever and weight loss.

What causes colon cancer?
Both genetic and environmental factors contribute to colon cancer development. People who have familial colon cancer usually develop the disease before the age of 40 if untreated. Risk factors for colon cancer include aging, smoking, unhealthy diet (high-fat, red meat, low fibre), physical inactivity, alcohol and obesity. It could take 10-15 years for the cancer development and this therefore provides a good opportunity to target its prevention.