A fellowship of hope to change the face of mental illness

The Florey Institute and One in Five have joined forces to provide hope for those living with complex mental illnesses like schizophrenia. Thanks to a three-year One in Five McIver Research Fellowship, inaugural recipient Associate Professor Jess Nithianantharajah is working to understand what happens in the brain in schizophrenia that leads to cognitive and mood symptoms, and develop new treatments.

Gabrielle Sheehan, Chair of One in Five, said the awarding of a fellowship was made possible through the generosity of the McIver family.

“We know that mental illness research often lacks the funding for novel research that focuses on understanding the underlying biological mechanisms of complex illnesses. This fellowship provides a talented scientist with three years of funding security so they can push forward with bold ideas and make a massive step forward in the search for effective treatments for mental illness”, said Gabrielle.

A/Prof Jess Nithianantharajah said she felt humbled and inspired by One in Five’s support and championship in supporting discovery mental health research to deliver transformative change for people living with schizophrenia.

“More than 20 million people worldwide live with a diagnosis of schizophrenia and experience cognitive symptoms, for which we currently have no effective treatments. There is a major unmet need to understand the biological mechanisms that underpin deficits in flexible decision making, learning and memory to generate improved therapeutic options that better target these symptoms in a personalised way”.

“Over the next three years, my team’s research will take a translation focused approach to investigate how disruptions in the balance of excitatory-inhibitory connectivity in the brain leads to specific deficits in cognitive processing and regulation of mood. As part of this, my team will use models that we’ve developed to identify brain signatures that underlie these disrupted behaviours, by measuring real-time changes in neural activity in genetic and pharmacological models of schizophrenia and examine the efficacy of novel therapeutic targets to reverse these neural and behavioural impairments.”

The team’s research is hoped to lead to new therapeutics which specifically target the cognitive symptoms experienced by people living with schizophrenia, providing new hope to millions.

Jill McIver commented on what the fellowship means to her and her family.

“I am so pleased about the One in Five McIver Fellowship and know my brother, sister-in-law and nephew, Greg, Judy and Matthew McIver would be incredibly proud. After a battle with mental illness, Greg and Judy lost their beloved son, and only child, Matthew in 2005. Following this devastating loss, they became loyal supporters of One in Five and were both passionate about the need to fund medical research to find cures. Tragically, Greg and Judy, along with my Mum, May, passed away in the Black Saturday fires and left behind a lasting legacy for mental health research, providing hope that one day we may find a cure.”

Associate Professor Jess Nithianantharajah