Research Impact


Network for the brain

Improving our understanding of the metabolic processes that affect cognitive function to abate symptoms of severe mental illness

Growing a strong national and international medical research network focused on mental health and metabolic diseases is the aim of a foundation partnership between UOW and Chinese institutions.

Professor Xu-Feng Huang, from UOW’s Illawarra Health and Medical Research Institute, has had a long-standing research partnership with Beijing Psychiatric Hospital, Qiqihar Medical University and Xuzhou Medical University.

This collaboration is based around Professor Huang’s long-standing research program on understanding the connection between severe psychiatric disorders, such as schizophrenia, and their treatments, and the body’s metabolism.

About half of the patients on antipsychotic drugs used to mitigate the symptoms of schizophrenia develop obesity and metabolic syndrome. Through studies of the metabolic side effect of antipsychotic medications, Professor Huang and colleagues have contributed to a greater understanding of the brain pathology of schizophrenia, and key genes which contribute to this disease.

For example, their research has shown that schizophrenia patients have high incidence of type 2 diabetes, which makes additional impact to the performance of cognitive function. Therefore a therapeutic strategy which combines both antipsychotics and glucose control measures may promote better patient outcomes.

This approach has been recommended to hospital specialists for further clinical trials.

Among the benefits of the connection with Chinese colleagues, Professor Huang’s research team has enhanced their international relationships in medical research and teaching, attracted a high calibre of academics and PhD research students to UOW, increased the capacity of translational research from bench top to clinical setting and elevated and broadened UOW’s international reputation.

Funding provided by UOW to Professor Huang in 2015 assisted in building these research relationships further and it is hoped that the collaboration can be expanded to a broader network internationally, including with university health research organisations in Canada, Japan, the USA and Indonesia.

Partner organisations

Beijing Psychiatric Hospital, China
Qiqihar Medical University, China
Xuzhou Medical University, China

UOW participants

Prof. Xu-Feng Huang