Could the tropical fruit mangosteen lead to a breakthrough in Mental Health? A team of researchers, led by Michael Berk, from Deakin University Geelong are on the case. Michael is ranked the number three expert on bipolar disorder in the world by expertscape.com (guide to the world’s medical brain trust) and he calls the Geelong region home.
Michael is the Director of IMPACT and is a South African-born Australian with an interesting story. He’s now leading a large research team at Deakin from humble beginnings in 2001. He was headhunted to be the inaugural Chair of Psychiatry at Barwon Health and The Geelong Clinic through Melbourne University at a time that both organisations were in their academic infancy. However, the institutional support, and most importantly, the collegial, supportive and community-minded spirit of Geelong provided very fertile soil for the development of a fledgling research team.
This Research Team has grown from one man and his dog, to a team of almost 50 researchers, studying areas including the development of novel treatments for people with mental health problems, nutrition and mental health, bone health and healthy ageing.
The arrival of Deakin University Medical School was a catalyst to rapid growth of the team, who together, were successful in achieving national and international grant success. This allowed the discovery of a number of novel treatments for people with psychiatric disorders and many people in the team have gone on to substantive international success.
The team are involved in a large number of studies including understanding the role of gut bacteria in physical and mental health and clinical trials to explore the benefit of new treatments. These include an amino acid called N-Acetyl Cysteine, which may have a role in psychiatric disorders and addictions such as smoking and ice, as well as an extract of a tropic fruit called mangosteen, which is being studied in depression and schizophrenia.
So, what does someone as eminent as Michael do with his spare time? He is an avid collector of lithographic art (cubists such as Picasso, Léger, Miró). He enjoys growing orchids, palms and ferns. Attending the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra performances is one of his favourite past times.
The Australasian Society for Bipolar and Depressive Disorders Conference will be held in Melbourne 15-17 September 2017.
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