A/Professor Stephanie Brown

Schizophrenia Research

Metabotropic Glutamate Receptor 5 in the Pathology and Treatment of Schizophrenia
University of Wollongong, NSW
Awarded 2013

“Current pharmacological treatments have an array of dangerous side effects, and many patients are resistant to these treatments.”

Researcher Profile

Following completion of her Medical Sciences Degree at the University of Wollongong, Natalie was taken on as an Honours student in the Centre for Translational Neurosciences schizophrenia research group in 2011.   During her Honours year, Natalie received a Research Scholarship through he University of Wollongong’s School of Health Sciences, which allowed her to shadow more experienced research students and fellows. This experience helped Natalie to decide she wanted a career in research.

Natalie was awarded Class 1 Honours, top Honours student for the Medical Science degree and was on the Dean Merit’s List for the Faculty of Health and Behavioural Science.
Natalie is elaborating on her Honours topic for her PhD studies. She continues with her supervisors Dr. Kelly Newell and Dr. Francesca Fernandez.

“As my knowledge of schizophrenia has deepened, I have come to realize how important it is to develop more effective treatments for these patients. We still do not know what causes schizophrenia and there is no cure for it. Although there are some treatments available, they are plagued with side effects and some patients are not responsive at all. There is a desperate need for further scientific research to help these sufferers, and I am honoured to be given the opportunity to pursue this with the support of Australian Rotary Health.”

Project Summary

Schizophrenia is a severe and debilitating neuropsychiatric disorder, which affects an estimated 1 in 100 Australians. Although the precise cause of schizophrenia has not been established, literature suggests that imbalances in brain neurotransmitters reflect the symptoms. Current pharmacological treatments have an array of dangerous side effects, and many patients are resistant to these treatments.

Metabotropic glutamate receptor 5 (mGluR5) is a current novel target for the treatment of schizophrenia. Preclinical studies in rodents have shown that positive modulation of mGluR5 reverses all aspects of schizophrenia symptoms. Despite this potential, the involvement of mGluR5 in the pathological process of schizophrenia is uncertain. This information is critical, not only to further understand the pathology of schizophrenia, but to understand the
efficiency of mGluR5 modulators in treating schizophrenia.

Therefore, this PhD project will:

  1. Uncover the molecular alterations in mGluR5 occurring within schizophrenia, utilising post-mortem human brain tissue;
  2. Employ a developmental animal model of schizophrenia to investigate the potential involvement of the mGluR5 system in the development of schizophrenia;
  3. Investigate how mGluR5 signalling is affected by current therapeutics.

Overall, this project will help to uncover the molecular pathway of the schizophrenia and build a solid foundation for the tailoring, development and employment of new drugs to improve the lives of schizophrenia sufferers.

Supervisors: Dr Kelly Anne Newell, Dr Francesca Fernandez & Professor Xu-Feng Huang