image7f2qe.pngThe Australian Society of Medical Research has named the head of the Neurovascular Research Laboratory at the Centre for Cancer Biology Dr Quenten Schwarz  as the winner of the 2015 South Australian Leading Light Award for his achievements in developmental biology including research into the origins of schizophrenia and autism.

The prestigious award is given to an early career researcher who is within 10 years of completing their PhD and has carried out exceptional research in their field.

Dr Schwarz, says he is very appreciative of the award, but that it reflects the work of his hard working laboratory as a whole.

“It is one of those things that I am obviously very proud of as an individual, but I think it really reflects the efforts of my team over the past 10 years,” Dr Schwarz says.

“We are hitting a sweet spot in our research program where we are starting to get a number of publications that provide significant insight toward disease processes and that has been a key contributor to winning the award. I am very fortunate to have a great team and an encouraging environment around me.”

Dr Schwarz and his neurovascular research team have spent years working in many areas of biology including the origin and development of highly prevalent birth defects, and possible solutions to correct those anomalies.

“We focus on three main areas of developmental biology: understanding how neurons form, how neural crest cells form, and how the cardiovascular system forms,” Dr Schwarz says.

“Understanding how some of those diseases or conditions occur and how normal developmental processes happen, can give us information about the origin of diseases as well as potential therapies.”

One of the research team’s major findings concerns the origins of two very common mental disorders: schizophrenia and autism.

The team discovered a common gene, that when mutated, can lead to those disorders.

Not only have they mapped the function of the gene, but they have been able to get some indication of the sorts of therapies that might help.

And the discoveries of Dr Schwarz’s team have had an impact beyond developmental biology.

“Although we work in developmental biology we have had results that have implications and applications in different fields including understanding more about some birth defects,” Dr Schwarz said.