Paving the way for personalised medicine, Griffith University researchers will use stem cells from nasal biopsies of people with schizophrenia to discover potential new therapies for this debilitating disease.

Schizophrenia is a life-long condition first diagnosed in early adulthood, costing the Australian government about $1.44 billion and the general community $2.25 billion annually. The few medications available for the disease are decades old and often come with severe side effects.

Researchers from Griffith Institute for Drug Discovery (GRIDD) have been awarded $1,425,156 under the federal government’s Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) to develop potential new drugs to treat schizophrenia using patient derived stem cells

“This study represents a paradigm shift for drug discovery,’’ said lead researcher Dr Alex Cristino from the Griffith Institute for Drug Discovery.

Dr Alex Cristino from Griffith Institute for Drug Discovery.

“We will use a unique stem cell model pioneered by 2017 Australian of the Year Professor Emeritus Alan Mackay-Sim AM, paired with artificial intelligence (AI)-powered drug analysis to find the most suitable types of drugs to treat schizophrenia.”

The researchers analysed large amounts of olfactory nerve cell data including whole-genome expression profiles and discovered a faulty gene signalling pathway in schizophrenia patient stem cells.

“Finding a common molecular pathway linked to disease may help solve the riddle of why people with schizophrenia may not share the same mutations in risk genes,’’ Dr Cristino explained.

“Instead, it may be that in each patient a distinct combination of genetic variations associated with the disease fall within risk genes thus disrupting different parts of shared pathways that regulate the same cell functions.”

“The team will screen 1500 FDA-approved drugs, identified using AI, against patient stem cell lines, to find those that restore cellular functions back to normal and thus rescue schizophrenia cell signatures,’’ Professor Vicky Avery, Head, Discovery Biology said

Professor Vicky Avery.

Professor Emeritus Mackay-Sim said the drugs identified from the screen will be the first based on the cellular causes of schizophrenia.

“They will therefore have more potential for success to treat the causes of disease instead of symptoms as current medications do,” he said.

The Griffith researchers will work with collaborators from Deakin University, Professor Michael Berk and Professor Ken Walder on the funded project — ‘Stem Cells Therapies Mission’.