Maps, models and modifiers to help prevent psychosis

Psychosis is a debilitating neuropsychiatric syndrome that affects 3% of Australians and over 20 million people worldwide. It also costs the Australian economy billions of dollars annually.

Characterised by delusions, hallucinations, disorganised thinking, and cognitive and emotional disturbances, psychosis is a defining characteristic of schizophrenia, and also occurs in other illnesses such as depression, bipolar disorder and some dementias.

Brain imaging techniques such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) have allowed us to identify which neural systems are altered by psychosis, but they have failed to identify viable treatment targets or impact clinical care. This is because MRI, although excellent for mapping brain-wide macroscopic changes in living patients, cannot achieve the cellular and molecular resolutions required to identify new therapeutic targets.

MICCN’s Associate Professor Alex Fornito has been at the forefront of developing new methods for mapping brain changes in people with psychosis using non-invasive techniques such as MRI. He has recently been awarded a five-year NHMRC Senior Research Fellowship to establish a research project that aims to tackle the “resolution problem” of MRI and identify the disease mechanism and new treatment targets for psychosis. He aims to do this by combining next-generation multi-modal brain imaging experiments with mathematical models that can bridge the gap between microscale mechanisms and macroscale MRI measures.

Due to his subsequent award of a Silvia and Charles Viertel Senior Medical Research Fellowship, Associate Professor Alex Fornito will hold his NHMRC Research Fellowship in an honorary capacity.

“My Fellowship vision is to identify the key dysfunctional neural systems underlying psychosis, the molecular drivers of this dysfunction, and how the dysfunction spreads throughout the brain over time,” Associate Professor Fornito said. “We aim to develop new methods for modifying this dysfunction, with the goal of starting clinical trials aimed at mitigating risk or even preventing psychosis onset.”

Since his recruitment to Monash University in 2013, Associate Professor Fornito has built a team with a diverse skill set that spans neuroscience, maths, psychology and psychiatry. He has established a series of unique research cohorts and new, multi-modal methodologies by taking advantage of the facilities available through the Monash Biomedical Imaging platform. It is clear why he was selected from such a strong competitive field to receive this prestigious award.

MICCN congratulates Associate Professor Fornito on his success.

For more information on Associate Professor Alex Fornito’s research, please contact him on t: 03 9902 9796, e: Alex.Fornito@monash.edu.

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Professor Alex Fornito

Associate Professor Alex Fornito