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Schizophrenia research here to stay

Dr Felice Zaccari, a retired GP, and his late wife Mary Zaccari, have provided research funding to the University for many years, and recently donated enough capital to ensure the project continues in the long-term.

"We wanted to create a scholarship that would support a cause that needs research," Dr Zaccari said.

"My late wife and I chose to financially support research into schizophrenia, which we have been doing since 2001."

Schizophrenia is a severe and debilitating psychiatric disorder, for which the cause is unknown.

It affects approximately one percent of the population, and is characterised by disruptions in language, thought, perception, social activity, and volition.

The donation will fund a perpetual scholarship, to be co-administered by the Queensland Centre for Mental Health Research and the Schizophrenia Fellowship of Queensland.

The current recipient of the Zaccari scholarship is Amanda Jones, from the School of Medicine, whose aim was to uncover whether some cases of schizophrenia could be categorised as an autoimmune disease.

"The cause of schizophrenia is unknown, but evidence is mounting that there may be several immune abnormalities in some people with schizophrenia including the presence of antibodies directed against brain neurotransmitter receptors," Miss Jones said.

"The aim of this project was to confirm and extend findings of autoantibodies against neurotransmitter receptors in sera from people with schizophrenia."

Miss Jones said her research had the potential to expand treatment options for schizophrenia sufferers.

"Improving our understanding of disease mechanisms in schizophrenia would offer new avenues to be explored in the treatment of schizophrenia.

"If autoantibodies are found to be present in the sera of people with schizophrenia and not healthy controls, then it may be possible to develop a diagnostic test for schizophrenia similar to that used to diagnose lupus or other antibody mediated autoimmune diseases.

"New therapies could be developed which target the cause rather than the symptoms of schizophrenia, as is the current practice, and these treatments could be tailored to individual patients resulting in less medication side effects and less time spent hospitalised," she said.

Miss Jones, whose PhD is due for completion this year, said receiving the scholarship had lessened the financial pressure associated with medical research.

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