Parsa Ravanfar, University of Melbourne

Parsa Ravanfar, University of Melbourne

I am a medical graduate and PhD candidate in neuropsychiatry, aiming to pursue a career in clinical psychiatry and neuroscience. During my clinical training, I learned about the large impact of schizophrenia on the individual and community, which attracted me to the research of schizophrenia. I am impressed by the complex phenomenology of psychosis and how little we still know about it. In my research, I am particularly passionate about the biological underpinnings of psychiatric illnesses, including schizophrenia. I believe that by understanding the cellular- and network-level brain mechanisms that are associated with schizophrenia, we will be able to develop more effective treatment modalities to fill the gaps in our current therapeutic options. Advanced neuroimaging modalities allow us to study the brain in individuals with schizophrenia in real time, providing a unique opportunity to understand the brain as it functions. My PhD research focuses specifically on imaging of iron content in the brain in schizophrenia. Iron is closely linked to dopaminergic neurotransmission, one of the main neurotransmitter systems implicated in schizophrenia. At SIRS 2022, I presented the findings of our group that describes higher content of iron in specific brain regions accompanied by network wide alterations of iron distribution in people with schizophrenia. Excess iron leads to neural damage by generating oxidative stress. Therefore, it is possible that this iron accumulation could be associated with the structural brain changes and cognitive decline that are observed in individuals with schizophrenia. By attending SIRS 2022, I was able to present my study to research groups from around the world and learn about their scientific discoveries relevant to my work. This helped me reshape my research ideas and deepen my understanding of several pathologic cellular processes other than oxidative stress that are associated with iron burden. I met leaders in the field with whom I am hoping to collaborate to uncover more of the unknowns about biological processes in schizophrenia.

As my future direction, I am aiming to continue using advanced neuroimaging tools to understand brain changes in psychiatric illnesses with a primary focus on schizophrenia. Pending further studies and expanding our knowledge about oxidative stress and iron in schizophrenia, we can think about new therapeutic options to mitigate oxidative stress or reduce iron content in the brain, which could potentially alleviate the brain changes and symptoms of schizophrenia.

The Early Career Award program is intended to sponsor individuals who have, through their research, teaching or clinical activities, demonstrated a professional and scientific interest in the field of schizophrenia research. You can find out more by clicking here.

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