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2nd April 2024 Neurodevelopmental Disorders

Autism research giving hope to families

Researcher in lab

A diagnosis of autism can be scary, overwhelming and lead to more questions than answers.  

Someone who is working hard to answer these questions is Associate Professor Quenten Schwarz (pictured) by researching how autism develops in children, giving hope to many Australian families facing this challenge. 

A/Prof Schwarz from the University of South Australia is exploring how a particular type of neuron (a specialised cell communicating nerve impulses) becomes deficient in the brain of autistic and schizophrenic patients, with the hope to provide new ways to diagnose, predict and treat these conditions. 

“Throughout this study we are trying to identify the differences during brain development that may lead to children having neurodevelopmental problems such as autism and schizophrenia,” A/Prof Schwarz explained. 

“We have been researching various genetic defects that lead to these two conditions with the aim of identifying how they both develop.” 

“If we can identify what goes wrong during brain formation then we may be able to fix the problems leading to these conditions, or in an ultimate outcome, develop strategies that could prevent them from occurring in the first place.” 

A/Prof Schwarz’s research has found the process through which brain cells expand is altered, which leads to an imbalance of chemical signals that control the way we think, behave and memorise things. 

“Instead of expanding in a way that promotes cells to remain immature, this developmental defect leads to the cells developing early and the loss of a specific type of neuron that is reduced in the brains of people living with autism and schizophrenia,” A/Prof Schwarz stated. 

Looking ahead, A/Prof Schwarz and his team are working hard to find ways of reviving the number of neurons that are lacking in the brains of children suffering from neurodevelopmental conditions. He and the team are making significant progress with his research, which has been presented at several conferences within Australia and overseas. 

The Hospital Research Foundation Group is proud to support A/Prof Schwarz’s important work and we look forward to updating you on his fight against autism and schizophrenia.