Epidemiology and clinical trials

Exploring risk factors linked to schizophrenia and other mental disorders

In 2015 the McGrath group commenced a major new research program to find better treatments for psychotic disorders.

Funded by the John Cade Fellowship, and in collaboration with Associate Professor James Scott (UQ Centre for Clinical Research), the McGrath group and staff from the Queensland Centre for Mental Health Research have linked up with clinicians around south-east Queensland. The Cadence clinical trials program has commenced randomized control trials of new candidate treatments for those with psychosis. 

The McGrath laboratory aims to explore risk factors linked to schizophrenia and other mental disorders. They focus on non-genetic factors that are potentially modifiable. In recent years the team has been examining the impact of low vitamin D (the "sunshine hormone") during early brain development and on adult brain function. In collaboration with Professor Darryl Eyles and Associate Professor Thomas Burne, they have developed animal models to examine the impact of low vitamin D during gestation on brain development. The group has established a new research program with Professor Pankaj Sah and Dr Helen Gooch to explore links between vitamin D and voltage-gated calcium channels. Previously in 2013, Professor McGrath was awarded a prestigious National Health and Medical Research Council John Cade Fellowship in Mental Health Research.

These funds have allowed the group to explore a wider range of modifiable risk factors (e.g. infectious agents, stress, cannabis, vitamin D), a more diverse range of brain-related outcomes (e.g. prenatal and neonatal brain growth, childhood neurocognition, autism, schizophrenia, other mental disorders), and a wider range of epidemiological samples (in collaboration with national and international groups). New projects include an international study related to psychotic experiences in the general community (Harvard University and 19 other universities). The group has also been extending studies related to vitamin D in international datasets by exploring gene-environment interactions.

In 2016, Professor McGrath was awarded the prestigious Niels Bohr Professorship in Denmark to continue his ground-breaking research into schizophrenia.

Group leader

Professor John McGrath

Professor John McGrath

Group Leader, Epidemiology and clinical trials

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Our Vision

Early psychosis researchers and network


  • Eyles D, Brown J, Mackay-Sim A, McGrath J, Feron F. (2003) Vitamin D-3 and brain development. Neuroscience. 118:641-653. (Citations = 556)

  • McGrath J, Saha S, Welham J, El Saadi O, MacCauley C, Chant D. (2004) A systematic review of the incidence of schizophrenia: the distribution of rates and the influence of sex, urbanicity, migrant status and methodology. BMC Medicine. 28;2(1):13. (Citations = 1136).

  • Saha S, Welham J, Chant D, McGrath JJ. (2005) A systematic review of the prevalence of schizophrenia. PLOS Medicine. 2(5):e141. Cover article. (Citations = 1840).

  • Saha S, Chant D, McGrath JJ. (2007) A systematic review of mortality in schizophrenia: is the differential mortality gap worsening over time? Archives of General Psychiatry. 64; 1123-1131. (Citations = 2000).

  • Eyles DW, Smith S, Kinobe R, Hewison M, McGrath JJ. (2005) Distribution of the vitamin D receptor and 1-hydroxylase in human brain. Journal of Chemical Neuroanatomy. 29(1):21-30. (Citations = 1207).

  • McGrath JJ, Eyles DW, Pedersen CB, Anderson C, Ko P, Burne TH, Norgaard-Pedersen B, Hougaard DM, Mortensen PB. (2010) Neonatal vitamin D status and risk of schizophrenia: a population-based case-control study. Archives of General Psychiatry. 67(9):889-94. (Citations = 352).

  • Lozano, R., M. Naghavi, K. Foreman, S. Li….J, McGrath….A. D. Lopez and C. J. L. Murray (2012). "Global and regional mortality from 235 causes of death for 20 age groups in 1990 and 2010: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2010." Lancet 380 (9859): 2095-2128. (Citations = 11873).

  • McGrath JJ, Saha S, Al-Hamzawi A, Alonso J, Bromet EJ, Bruffaerts R, Caldas-de-Almeida JM, Chiu WT, de Jonge P, Fayyad J, Florescu S, Gureje O, Haro JM, Hu C, Kovess-Masfety V, Lepine JP, Lim CC, Mora ME, Navarro-Mateu F, Ochoa S, Sampson N, Scott K, Viana MC, Kessler RC. Psychotic Experiences in the General Population: A Cross-National Analysis Based on 31261 Respondents From 18 Countries. JAMA Psychiatry. 2015;72:697-705. (Citations = 220)

  • Plana-Ripoll O, Pedersen CB, Agerbo E, Holtz Y, Erlangsen A, Canudas-Romo V, Andersen PK, Charlson FJ, Christensen MK, Erskine HE, Ferrari AJ, Iburg KM, Momen N, Mortensen PB, Nordentoft M, Santomauro DF, Scott JG, Whiteford HA, Weye N, McGrath JJ, Laursen TM. A comprehensive analysis of mortality-related health metrics associated with mental disorders: a nationwide, register- based cohort study. Lancet. 2019;394:1827-1835. (Joint senior author, corresponding author).

  • Momen NC, Plana-Ripoll O, Agerbo E, Benros ME, Børglum AD, Christensen MK, Dalsgaard S, Degenhardt L, de Jonge P, Debost JPG, Fenger-Grøn M, Gunn JM, Iburg KM, Kessing LV, Kessler RC, Laursen TM, Lim CCW, Mors O, Mortensen PB, Musliner KL, Nordentoft M, Pedersen CB, Petersen LV, Ribe AR, Roest AM, Saha S, Schork AJ, Scott KM, Sievert C, Sørensen HJ, Stedman TJ, Vestergaard M, Vilhjalmsson B, Werge T, Weye N, Whiteford HA, Prior A, McGrath JJ (2020). Association between Mental Disorders and Subsequent Medical Conditions. New England Journal of Medicine 382, 1721-1731.

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Research areas

The Niels Bohr Professorship will focus on innovation related to psychiatric epidemiology. The program consists of four inter-linked themes that aim to expand and strengthen the collaboration between the National Center for Register-based Research, the University of Queensland, Statens Serums Institute and Harvard University.

1.    NB-VitD

The NBP will follow up on recent discoveries linking neonatal vitamin D and risk of mental disorders - we will strengthen links with the iPSYCH consortium - a major program of psychiatric research in Denmark, founded by the Lundbeck Foundation. We will measure neonatal vitamin D concentration in the iPSYCH2012 case-cohort sample.

2.    NB-G+E

Genetic risk factors are important for mental disorders, as they are for many non-communicable disorders. Advances in statistical genetics have allowed us to build polygenic risk scores that can provide individual-level estimates of risk. We can now combine these genetic scores (G) with risk factors from the environment (E). In collaboration with Professors Naomi Wray and Peter Visscher from the Queensland Brain Institute, the University of Queensland, we will explore innovative strategies to combine genetic and environmental risk factors.

3.    NB-Health Metrics

In recent years the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation has established a network of collaborators around the world to measure the burden of disease around the world. A team led by Professor Harvey Whiteford at the University of Queensland, and the Queenland Centre of Mental Health Research, have compiled estimates related to the epidemiology of mental disorders and substance use disorders. New techniques have become available that allow the research community to estimate the burden of mental disorders for countries. We will leverage high quality Danish health registers to estimate the burden of treated mental disorders in Denmark, and use individual-level data to explore ways to capture comorbidity within mental disorders.

4.    NB-COMO

Psychiatric epidemiology undertaken by researchers at the NCRR Aarhus University, and within the WHO World Mental Health Survey initiative have clearly shown that people with mental disorder rarely have only one condition. Over the lifespan, the patterns of mental disorders change, and often people have several different mental disorders at the same time. This is called comorbidity. In order to understand the burden of mental disorders in the community, we need to estimate patterns of comorbidity (thus COMO for short). Genetic research has demonstrated that different types of mental disorder can share common risk variants. The NB-COMO theme will link all of the co-investigators named on the NBP. We aim to map patterns of COMO based on Danish registers, and samples from within the World Mental Health Survey, and other large datasets. We will use this information to build new phenotypes suitable for genetic studies.

Our team

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Research Members

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