Mental illness is a national health priority with one in five adults in Australia having an episode of mental illness in any one-year period.
Medicines play a major part in the treatment of mental illness, giving pharmacists the potential to play a significant role in delivering treatment and services to mental health consumers. Our research falls under two main aims:
- To develop treatments for neurological and mental health conditions by investigating a diverse range of agents, potential receptors and targets
- To optimise the use of psychotropic and other medicines in consumers with mental health conditions
- Ion channels and enzymes in drug discovery
- Structure and function of ligand gated ion channels
- Professional services and medication management review
- Mixed methods research – qualitative and quantitative methods
Ion channels and enzymes in drug discovery
Associate Professor Jane Hanrahan
Modification of known drugs can increase binding interactions resulting in more potent and selective agents. Modification of the structure of epigallocatechin gallate, a compound found in green tea, resulted in compounds that are selective for a sub-type of GABA-A receptors and show anxiolytic activity in mice. Work is now continuing on understanding where and how these compounds interact with the receptors with the aim of developing new anxiolytic drugs that act without side-effects. Full paper
Dr Bret Church
Kynurenine aminotransferase activity in the brain results from protein enzymatic activity and assists a conversion of metabolites from kynurenine to kynurenic acid. It is an oversupply of kynurenic acid which contributes to glutamatergic hypofunction.
Our work capitalises on a knowledge of the three-dimensional structure of important proteins and we have recently been able to design and synthesise and the best known inhibitors of the one of the enzymes responsible for this activity. Abstract
Professional services and medication management review
Associate Professor Timothy Chen
Associate Professor Chen is a health services researcher with interests in the development, implementation and evaluatuion of professional services designed to optimise the use of psychotropic (and other) medicines. His research focuses on interprofessional collaboration in mental health care, improving medication adherence in consumers with depression, and strategies to decrease mental health stigma.
Some sample key papers include:
- Nguyen E, Chen TF, O’Reilly C. Evaluating the impact of direct and indirect contact on the mental health stigma of pharmacy students. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology. Published online 14th July 2011, DOI 10.1007/s00127-011-0413-5
- Chong WW, Aslani P, Chen TF. Pharmacist-patient communication on use of antidepressants: A simulated patient study in community pharmacy. Research in Social and Administrative Pharmacy. Accepted for publication 12th May 2013
Dr Carl Schnieder
Dr Schneider has research interests in optimising the medications of older persons and those with dementia in particular. His current research interests involve ensuring the Quality Use of Medicines in this patient population. Projects currently involve determining how to identify patients at greater need in order to direct healthcare resources.
One novel intervention strategy being investigated is utilising hospital pharmacy dispensing records to screen for patients requiring psychiatric review. In order for health services to be modified, effective knowledge implementation strategies need to be developed and applied. To that end he is also investigating how pharmacy services can best be optimised to improve healthcare.Abstract
Dr Claire O'Reilly
Dr O’Reilly’s research interests focus on developing the role of the pharmacist as a partner in mental health care. This involves research into the stigma and attitudes of health care professionals in mental illness, the development and evaluation of training programs and educational interventions to reduce mental health stigma and developing new pharmacist services in mental health such as screening and risk assessment in depression.
In addition Dr O’Reilly is also involved in research aimed at improving the quality use of psychotropic medicines by improving medication adherence, understanding barriers to treatment, documenting clinical interventions by mental health hospital pharmacists, investigating the stress and mental health of the pharmacist workforce and designing training and support programs to support the pharmacist workforce.
Structure and function of ligand gated ion channels
Dr Thomas Balle
Ligand gated ion channels are membrane proteins that mediate fast synaptic neurotransmission. We use structural bioinformatics, computational chemistry and X-ray crystallography in combination with electrophysiology. The combination of methods allows us to study structure and function of receptors and structure activity relationships (SARs) of ion channel activators and allosteric modulators.
The insight into structure and function of receptors along with the molecules that activate or potentiate them gives a powerful starting point for development of new ion channel therapeutics. We are particularly interested in modulators of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors and the structural basis for their modulatory actions.
- Unraveling the high-and low-sensitivity agonist responses of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors; K Harpsøe, PK Ahring, JK Christensen, ML Jensen, D Peters, T Balle. The Journal of Neuroscience 31 (30), 10759-10766
- Novel acetylcholine and carbamoylcholine analogues: development of a functionally selective α4β2 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor agonist; CP Hansen, AA Jensen, JK Christensen, T Balle, T Liljefors, B Frølund. Journal of medicinal chemistry 51 (23), 7380-7395
Prof Mary Collins (Chebib)
Her research focuses on the molecular pharmacology and chemistry of GABA and nicotinic acetylcholine receptors, and their involvement in anxiety, sleep disorders, stroke, learning and memory. Specifically, how receptor stoichiometry affects ligand function, and to define the alternative receptor interfaces of GABAA and nicotinic acetylcholine receptors as ligand binding sites and novel drug targets.
- Covalent trapping of methyllycaconitine at the α4-α4 interface of the α4β2 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor: antagonist binding site and mode of receptor inhibition revealed; Absalom NL, Quek G, Lewis TM, Qudah T, von Arenstorff I, Ambrus JI, Harpsoe K, Karim N, Balle T, McLeod MD, Chebib M. J Biol Chem. 2013 288(37):26521-32
- α4βδ GABA(A) receptors are high-affinity targets for γ-hydroxybutyric acid (GHB); Absalom N, Eghorn LF, Villumsen IS, Karim N, Bay T, Olsen JV, Knudsen GM, Bräuner-Osborne H, Frølund B, Clausen RP, Chebib M, Wellendorph P. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2012 Aug 14;109(33):13404-9. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1204376109