Schizophrenia researcher closes in on STEM Prize

12 February 2020



An exploration into the links between early brain development and the onset of schizophrenia could be the major highlight of the 2020 Queensland Women in STEM Prize.

Post-graduate student Anastasia Brandon is looking at how early environmental risk factors – such as lack of oxygen to the foetus – could alter brain development and lead to schizophrenia at the Queensland Brain Institute.

“My project focuses on pre-natal hypoxia which refers to decreased oxygen into the brain of the foetus during gestation, which has a seven-fold increase in the likelihood of developing schizophrenia later in life,” she said.

“Schizophrenia is a perverse psychiatric disorder that is characterised by hallucinations, delusions and disrupted cognition and ultimately causes a patient to lose their grasp on reality.

“There is no cure for schizophrenia and the anti-psychotic drugs that are prescribed to these patients have very poor efficacy in easing their symptoms—this is due to the very limited understanding of the mechanisms of the disease.”

Ms Brandon said studied how early risk factors affect dopamine, a chemical that plays a role in pleasure, motivation and learning.

“We suspect that early environmental risk factors, predispose the foetus to schizophrenia. This may be due to an altered wiring of the brain, specifically concerning dopamine function.” 

Ms Brandon said she was passionate about women in science and always sought to promote, engage and support her fellow women in STEM.