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Below is a personal message from Dr Thibault Renoir. As the Head of our Genes, Environment and Behaviour Laboratory, Dr Renoir is a world-leading expert in mental health. He has good news to share with you about advances taking place at the Florey in depression and anxiety.
A personal message from Dr Thibault Renoir
Meet Doctor Thibault Renoir husband, dad, bass player, PhD supervisor, home schooling expert, and, most importantly, Head of Genes Environment and Behaviour Laboratory at the Florey.
I discovered the Florey when I met Professor Tony Hannan at a conference in Melbourne. I was so impressed by the scientists I met on that trip that I chose to join the Florey family in 2009. I hit the ground running and worked with Tony on depressive-like behaviours in Huntington’s disease as a post-doctoral researcher for several years. I’ve been running my own lab for three years now.
Like all good love stories my passion for neuroscience was born in Paris. While studying pharmacology it became clear that too many brain disorders remained untreated because we didn’t understand the underlying biological causes of mood and cognitive disorders.
You and I know that living with mental illnesses isn’t easy. Unfortunately, neither is mental health research.
Many mood and cognitive disorders remain poorly treated simply because we don’t really know how the brain is impacted by diseases. These disorders are likely to be polygenic, which means there are different genetic reasons why some people might be more vulnerable than others. It also means they may have a lifestyle and environmental component.
There are many variables to dissect when we study these disorders. Think for a minute about all the different factors that may influence people to develop depression for example. Then think about how different people respond to different drugs.
"It’s terrible to think that 30% of patients with depression do not respond to available treatments. Despite all these challenges I remain passionate about mental health research because I know we can find cures."
I’m proud of the work my lab is carrying out. We are a young and diverse team. I lead six scientists, five are PhD students and one is a research assistant. Together, we each come from six countries: Australia, Belgium, France, Malaysia, Russia and Vietnam. We’ve gathered at the Florey as it’s the best place to find innovative solutions to mental health disorders.
As a fellow Florey supporter, I hope that you’re proud to read my message and hear how you are contributing to the global development of treatments and environmental interventions to better target debilitating diseases.
Florey researchers are seeking solutions for those who don’t respond to current therapies for addiction, anxiety and depression.
Together, we are modelling the effects of stress on anxiety and depression using lab models. Thanks to these models and our supporters we know more than ever. We know that early stress can precipitate depression-like behaviours in individuals with a genetic vulnerability. We also know more about non-pharmacological treatments; we’ve proven that environmental enrichment and socialising can be effective mood enhancing treatments. We’ve also shown the beneficial effect exercise has on depression.
"The best news of all though, is that there are many existing treatments which were developed for different diseases that could potentially be used to treat mental health disorders. While I can’t give too much away right now, we are very hopeful about a therapeutic we’re researching that looks very
promising in this respect."
What I can tell you is this - we are making headway thanks to your support. Florey researchers are seeking solutions for those who don’t respond to currently available therapies for addiction, anxiety and depression. It’s a very exciting and challenging time, especially when you consider that there haven’t been any real new drugs in this area since I started my vocation more than a decade ago.
I think that COVID-19 presents us with an interesting opportunity in the mental health space. Although it’s clearly a very difficult time for us, it’s also providing us researchers with a live version of the microcosm we are creating in our lab models.
Our results in the lab show clear linkages between socialising and mental health. We’re concerned now that social distancing has created a more stressful environment and that may lead to higher incidences of depression and anxiety. That’s why we all need to make sure we chat with friends even though we are distant from a physical point of view.
For those taking medication or having treatment please continue with your doctor’s recommendations. For others finding it particularly hard, I want you to know that you’re not alone. Speak to your GP and understand that these heightened feelings are temporary.
Personally, I’m missing my family in France, going out with friends to enjoy live music, and playing bass with my mates.
The silver lining though is that slowing down has helped me remember what really matters. I can spend quality time with people in a new way. My kids are in prep and grade 2. I’m seeing what they’re doing 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for the first time ever. I’m able to be more hands on with their education and we all feel more connected. I’m also enjoying our lunches together.
"Our research shows strong links between gut health and mood, so I’m happy that we’ve temporarily replaced their lunchboxes with a proper family lunch. We’re making sure they stay as active as possible. Keeping their little bodies healthy will help their brains stay healthy too."
On a professional level there are pluses too. While I’m working from home as much as possible, some of my team have been classified as essential researchers and can continue the experiments they had underway before the pandemic hit. Others in the team are using the time to analyse data and focus on writing manuscript to report our exciting findings. We are also writing grants. A few have taken leave and are using the time to slow down and recharge. We’re meeting every day online and talking about fascinating things such as the role that metals like iron play in depression, anxiety and schizophrenia. I’m optimistic about what we can achieve during and after this pandemic, the skyreally is the limit!
We must support medical research and innovation - Australians will come out of this better than before!
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