TEAM APPROACH: Professor John McGrath has won international recognition for his work in mental health. INSET: Dr James Kesby is studying ways to help people with schizophrenia.
TEAM APPROACH: Professor John McGrath has won international recognition for his work in mental health. INSET: Dr James Kesby is studying ways to help people with schizophrenia. Nick Valmas

Strong minds combine to find cure for mental disease

AN IPSWICH researcher's ground-breaking efforts to prevent schizophrenia are making waves internationally.

Professor John McGrath has been awarded the New York-based Brain and Behaviour Research Foundation's Lieber Prize for Outstanding Achievement in Schizophrenia Research.

He is only the second researcher working at an Australian institute to win the award in its 32-year history.

Schizophrenia, a complex brain disorder that affects about one in 100 Australians, has been the focus of Prof McGrath's research for some time.

He is the director of epidemiology and clinical trials at the Queensland Centre for Mental Health Research based at The Park Centre for Mental Health in Wacol, leading a collaborative research program involving colleagues in Australia, Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands.

Together they aim to find better treatments for psychotic disorders by exploring environmental and potentially changeable risk factors linked to schizophrenia, including the impact of low vitamin D, infectious agents, stress and marijuana.

Dr James Kesby is studying ways to help people with schizophrenia.
Dr James Kesby is studying ways to help people with schizophrenia.

Prof McGrath said mental ill health in Australia could have lifetime emotional, social and financial consequences for the individuals and their families and had a significant impact on the health system and economy.

"While we need better treatments for those with this poorly understood group of disorders, we also need to prevent people developing the disorder in the first place and this has been the focus of my research,” Prof McGrath said.

"I am 100 per cent certain there are better schizophrenia treatments out there waiting to be discovered.

"My research work isn't a short game, this will take decades but I know it will be worth it.”

In addition to $73,000 he receives for the Lieber Prize, Prof McGrath is tasked with awarding the Maltz Prize for Innovative and Promising Schizophrenia Research to a fellow researcher.

This year's $30,000 Maltz Prize will go to Dr James Kesby, who began his career with a PhD scholarship from the Ipswich Hospital Foundation in 2006 and still works closely with researchers from the Queensland Centre for Mental Health Research.

Dr Kesby is focusing on ways to help people with schizophrenia by studying decision-making skills and how levels of the chemical dopamine contribute to a decline in decision-making.

"Understanding why symptoms occur will help us identify better treatments to improve the lives of those with schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders, with the ultimate aim to help people before they develop symptoms,” Dr Kesby said.