Mental Illness Research

The quest to improve health outcomes for patients with rare mental illness condition

Mater’s Neurosciences Unit and Betty McGrath Fellow Dr Andrew Swayne is developing a unique tool to help clinicians better understand why the immune system attacks the brain, and improve the diagnosis of Autoimmune encephalitis.

Autoimmune encephalitis is a diverse group of disorders that occurs when the immune system attacks healthy brain cells. These attacks can change the function of neurotransmitters. Because of the wide-spread distribution of neurotransmitters in the central nervous system these conditions can be very varied in severity and characteristics.

Symptoms can vary from confusion, personality change, psychosis, seizures, abnormal movements, muscle rigidity, a decreased level of consciousness, coma, and even gastrointestinal upset.

These diverse symptoms means accurately diagnosing autoimmune encephalitis is challenging.

However Dr Andrew Swayne and his team are building upon significant momentum in this area and are exploring a reliable imaging marker for autoimmune encephalitis that would enable early diagnosis, allowing earlier treatment and differentiation from other conditions.

Dr Andrew Swayne is conducting an analysis of all existing and newly diagnosed cases in South East Queensland, using a varied approach that includes patient history, biomarkers of the disease, neuropsychology and advanced imaging.

His research aims to determine if advanced magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) techniques such as Diffusion Weighted Imaging (DWI) and functional MRI (fMRI) will help clinicians better understand how the disease progresses and the impact it has on brain networks.

A reliable imaging marker for autoimmune encephalitis would enable clinicians to accurately and rapidly diagnose the condition allowing them to improve patient outcomes.

Better identification and early diagnosis will lead to more patients being treated with better outcomes while imaging markers will improve the efficiency of future trials.

Your support helps fund incredible advances that can change lives

Research is the most important tool we have in the fight against some of the major challenges facing healthcare today. This project is another step in Mater’s vision of delivering precision medicine services that rapidly translates advances in research into clinical outcomes.