Zilong Du
Zilong Du.

In late 2018, Zilong Du was awarded the coveted Association of Relatives and Friends of the Mentally Ill (ARAFMI) scholarship to better understand the effects of stress on psychiatric brain diseases, in particular schizophrenia.

For the past three years, he has studied the interactions between stress and dopamine release in the brain in the hope that one day our brains can be manipulated to make good use of stress while avoiding the harmful effects.

The 29-year-old Queensland Brain Institute PhD student has always had a curiosity about brain research and initially started studying endocrinology and behaviour in Australian wildlife.

“From my analysis, I realised that the brain is a key organ in controlling bodily functions both in animals and humans, so researching the brain was a natural extension,” said Zilong.

Inspired by the talks of American neuroendocrinologist, Professor Robert Sapolsky, Zilong delved deeper into the brain and mental health.

His curiosity and a deeply personal encounter when his grandmother was diagnosed with major depression, prompted him to apply for the ARAFMI scholarship.

The ARAFMI association was established in the 1980s by the late Betty Garrett, a concerned mother of a son with schizophrenia living on the Sunshine Coast.

The group now has more than 400 members around Queensland with fundraising profits donated to the Ipswich Hospital Foundation to form a scholarship fund.

According to Zilong, stress is regarded as an important risk factor for schizophrenia and may even accelerate the transition from at-risk state to full disease.

“Understanding stress mechanisms can help researchers design preventative methods that may slow down or even stop the transition,” he said.

“My PhD research will provide novel cellular and molecular insight into the interactions between stress and the dopamine system within a particular brain region that is implicated in schizophrenia, named the dorsal striatum.

“Receiving this scholarship means I should always remember my responsibility that the purpose of my research is not only for my own personal interests, but rather should be motivated by concern for people suffering mental illness.”


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