Psychiatry the focus of new PMH Chair

Child and adolescent psychiatry is the focus of a new Professorial Chair position funded by PMH Foundation supporters.

Professor Florian Daniel Zepf is the inaugural Chair and Winthrop Professor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and is currently working at Princess Margaret Hospital investigating the role of the neurotransmitter serotonin in a variety of brain functions, including mood processes, memory and impulsive behaviours.

“Adolescence is a critical period of development, and we know the serotonin system changes throughout the stages of development. Many psychological disorders emerge in childhood or adolescence and have a clear trajectory from there, so it’s important for us to understand more about the role serotonin plays in this,” Professor Zepf said.

“Once we clearly understand how serotonin works, we can develop targeted interventions based on that knowledge.”

Professor Zepf’s other key research area is in ADHD and an alternative non-pharmacological treatment for the disorder called neurofeedback, which allows children to learn to regulate their own brain activity without needing pharmacological agents

“How it works is that children with ADHD learn to control and regulate their brain activity by looking at an EEG signal of their own brain activity in real time on a screen system,” he says.

“Because the EEG signals that are fed back are related to attention control, we are able to teach children skills to improve their attention span.”

Putting this in real terms, take the example of a young 10-year-old boy who has been diagnosed with ADHD and prescribed medication to help handle his hyperactive behaviours but is experiencing some side effects.

In this case, Professor Zepf’s approach could help the child learn to control his brain activity signals using a neurofeedback system, and eventually apply these strategies to regulate his own brain activity with the goal of improved attentional performance.

In an ideal scenario the key benefit of this alternate treatment path is that the child wouldn’t have to rely on, or could reduce other interventions such as medication.

“More research needs to be done in this area and I’m keen to introduce it in WA. It would allow us to hopefully reduce the use of stimulants in particular patients, and be a form of treatment in itself,” Professor Zepf says.

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