Distinguished Professor Gordon Wallace, Senior Professor Xu-Feng Huang and Dr Qingsheng (Kiefer) Zhang. Photo by Mark Newsham.

IHMRI researchers have developed a potential new treatment for schizophrenia that targets its underlying cause

ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science (ACES) Director Distinguished Professor Gordon Wallace has joined forces with Distinguished Professor Xu-Feng Huang from UOW’s School of Medicine to explore options for treating a recently discovered neural connection deficit that causes schizophrenia.

The pair saw an opportunity to apply a biocompatible polymer and protocol developed previously by ACES for Cochlear implant studies, to address the neural connection deficit.

“The polymer we developed promotes neurite outgrowth using electrical stimulation, and in parallel there was mounting evidence linking a lack of neural connectivity and schizophrenia,” states Professor Wallace.

The polymer and its protocol could help to recreate those connections.

“In diseased brain cells, we see a reduction in the surrounding network of cells, called neurites, that facilitate communication between cells,” explains Professor Huang. “We now know that this deficit is the primary pathology underlying schizophrenia, leading to symptoms like psychosis, social withdrawal or cognitive dysfunction.”

With the help of a National Health and Medical Research grant, the two teamed up to look at the effectiveness of the ACES electrical stimulation method on diseased schizophrenia cells from mice.

The paper’s lead author, Dr Qingsheng (Kiefer) Zhang, said the study involved delivering electrical stimulation to brain cells from mice of three genotypes.

“We applied electrical stimulation to brain cells from healthy mice and mice with two different kinds of diseased genes which are known to be linked to schizophrenia,” Dr Zhang states.

“First, we found that the diseased cells indeed have a reduced neurite outgrowth and a reduced capacity for communication compared to the healthy cells. We also found that using conductive polymer mediated electrical stimulation can regenerate the neurite network and synapses responsible for communication between cells,” he reveals.

The research could be significant for the some 200,000 Australians living with schizophrenia.

“People living with schizophrenia rely on a limited number of drugs—with a range of debilitating side effects—to treat the symptoms of the disease without targeting the underlying cause. This early stage research is a step in the right direction for treating its cause,” concludes Professor Huang.

Top ranking journal Scientific Reports recently published their findings. Read the full article at www.nature.com/articles/srep42525

Top photo: Distinguished Professor Gordon Wallace, Distinguished Professor Xu-Feng Huang and Dr Kiefer Zhang. Photo by Mark Newsham.

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