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QLD Scientist Could have the key to Eliminating Schizophrenia

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The State Government is funding new research which could lead to a genetic test and early intervention programs to better treat schizophrenia.

Minister for State Development John Mickel said Dr Joanne Voisey from the Queensland University of Technology’s ( QUT ) Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation had received a $150,000 Smart State Fellowship under Round 2 of the Government’s Smart State Innovation Funds to develop pre-emptive treatment for schizophrenia that could potentially eradicate the disease from our society.

“Dr Voisey’s early intervention program could reduce the cost of treating schizophrenia to Queensland’s health care system by up $360 million each year,” Mr Mickel said.

Schizophrenia affects approximately one per cent of Queenslanders and accounts for up to 20 per cent of Queensland’s health care costs and according to Dr Voisey these costs could be prevented.

Dr Voisey’s program combines genetic screening with a demographic history profile to more accurately identify individuals at risk of developing schizophrenia and provide early intervention.

Dr Voisey’s early intervention strategy could significantly reduce antipsychotic medication, hospitalisation and caregiver costs and increase the likelihood of people with schizophrenia leading productive and healthy lives.

Dr Voisey said she wanted to develop a diagnostic test that would identify polymorphisms – genetic variations in a person’s genome – associated with schizophrenia to determine a person’s genetic predisposition. She said genetic screening was not currently used in tests for schizophrenia.

“About 80 per cent of people diagnosed with schizophrenia have a genetic predisposition to the disease,” she said.

“We want to develop an overall risk profile, through genetic testing, that will help clinicians better identify those at risk of developing schizophrenia.”

Dr Voisey said the testing would ideally take place in early adolescence because substance misuse could contribute to the onset of the condition.

“Onset of the disease is usually in early adulthood, between the ages of 16 – 25,” she said. “But studies have shown that cannabis use can trigger an early onset.

“By intervening during early adolescence we hope to provide those people at risk of developing schizophrenia with counselling on substance misuse. Also preliminary studies by us have shown that a person’s genetic makeup can determine how well they respond to antipsychotic drugs. In the future, this may lead to personalized medicine where specific treatment options are based on an individual’s genetic and environmental risk.”

Dr Voisey said the end point of her work would be to develop a genetic test for schizophrenia. This would enable early intervention, and the delivery of tailored medication to individual schizophrenia sufferers that’s predetermined by their genetic makeup.

“We hope to have diagnostic testing available to clinicians within a few years.”

The Smart State Fellowships are part of the Queensland Government’s $200 million Smart State Innovation Funding Program, which aims to build world-class research facilities, attract top-quality scientists to Queensland and stimulate cutting-edge research projects.

Round Two of the Smart State Innovation Funds set out about $18.5 million in assistance, including project funding, research fellowships and university internships.

“The Queensland Government has invested more than $3 billion in innovation, science and research since 1998. I think this demonstrates our deep and ongoing commitment to maintaining Queensland’s reputation as the Smart State,” Mr Mickel said.