$4.3 million to fund research into schizophrenia-focused therapy

A Charles Sturt University-led research project has secured $4.3 million in funding to investigate a specific therapy pathway for people with schizophrenia.

  • Charles Sturt’s Rural Health Research Institute has secured a $4.3 million federal government grant to fund mental health research
  • The project will research how to implement and benefit from cognitive remediation therapy for schizophrenia
  • Research will be carried out over five years from April 2024

A Charles Sturt University-led research project has secured $4.3 million in funding to investigate a specific therapy pathway for people with schizophrenia.

The Rural Health Research Institute (RHRI) received the translational research grant through the Australian Government’s Medical Research Future Fund, which will help implement cognitive remediation therapy (CRT) in clinical mental health settings.

Associate Professor Julaine Allan in the Charles Sturt Rural Health Research Institute is leading the research team and said the project was not about curing schizophrenia, but rather helping people manage it as part of their day-to-day lives.

“CRT has been shown to significantly improve cognitive and socio-occupational functioning in people living with schizophrenia and schizoaffective conditions,” Professor Allan said.

“Although CRT is currently recommended in Australian treatment guidelines, access to the therapy is limited.

“This project will rapidly translate an evidence-based therapy into different clinical mental health settings with a team of clinician researchers, people with lived experience of mental illness and researchers.”

CRT is designed to improve neurocognitive abilities, such as attention, memory, cognitive flexibility and planning, and executive functioning which leads to improved daily functioning.

The research will be carried out from April 2024 over five years, delivered across diverse mental health settings in Orange, Dubbo, South Eastern Sydney, Wollongong, Nowra, Shellharbour and Logan to determine its efficacy, social, functional and economic impact and identify suitable translation strategies.

“At the conclusion of the project, we will be able to deliver recommendations about how to implement CRT, which people will benefit the most, why and how, and also detail information around cost, logistics, access and more,” Professor Allan said.

From the BJBS faculty, Dr Nicole Sugden from the School of Psychology will be an investigator in this research, focusing on project design, analyses, and cognitive research areas of the project. Also involved in the project is Dr Matt Thomas, Principal Practice Lead at Marathon Health. Dr Thomas noted that this research will highlight the success of CRT on a wider scale.

“While cognitive remediation therapy has been trialled and initiated in some mental health facilities and services across NSW, it has not been implemented and made more widely available,” he said.

“Our research is an exciting and important step towards supporting the translation and implementation of cognitive remediation therapy for people with schizophrenia and other psychotic spectrum disorders.”

Professor Allan said implementing a successful CRT pathway for people with schizophrenia would make a world of difference, not just for the individual, but their family, friends and communities.

“Three-quarters of people diagnosed with schizophrenia and related conditions experience impaired cognitive functioning which can negatively affect people’s social, educational and vocational participation,” she said.

“This can result in poor quality of life across many domains including relationships, finances and employment.

“The effects of CRT are meaningful, durable and result in improvements in everyday functional outcomes.”

The research team includes representatives from Marathon Health, NSW Ministry of Health’s Mental Health Branch, QLD Health, Tertiary Referral Service for Psychosis – South-Eastern Sydney LHD community mental health services, Illawarra Shoalhaven LHD, Western NSW LHD, Charles Sturt University, Griffith University and Kings College London.

Media Note: 

For more information or to arrange an interview with Professor Julaine Allan, contact Jessica McLaughlin at Charles Sturt Media on mobile 0430 510 538 or via news@csu.edu.au