Mental HealthPsychosis

The Clinical Course of Bipolar Disorder

Project Lead
Associate Professor Jan Fullerton

Associate Professor Jan Fullerton

Associate Professor Jan Fullerton

Associate Professor Fullerton’s career focuses on demystifying the functioning of the human brain by improving understanding of the biological basis of mental illness. Studying genetic contributors to mental illness has the potential to reveal what happens in the development of a healthy or unhealthy brain and ultimately improve treatment and quality of life.

Associate Professor Fullerton completed her PhD in human genetics at The University of Melbourne in 2001, before completing five years post-doctoral training at The Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics, University of Oxford (UK), where she developed her interest in psychiatric genetics and complex trait analysis, studying genetic contributors to personality, depression and anxiety in humans and mice.

She returned to Australia in 2006 on a NHMRC Howard Florey Fellowship, which allowed her to join NeuRA to study the genetics of major mental illnesses, particularly bipolar disorder. In 2013, Dr Fullerton was promoted to Group Leader at NeuRA, where she heads projects in gene discovery and the role of specific genes in risk of major psychiatric conditions. She also has experience in neuroimaging, aspects of cognition and electronic health record research.

Up to 3 per cent of people experience bipolar disorder, with recurring periods of high and low mood that affect wellbeing, relationships and ability to function effectively in work or study. People with a bipolar diagnosis also have reduced life expectancy, dying on average eight years earlier than the general population. By learning more about how people with bipolar disorder use and respond to medications, and engage with health services, it may be possible to design interventions that improve their length and quality of life.

About the project

The health records of people with bipolar disorder who are participants in The Sax Institute’s ongoing 45 and Up Study will be linked with data about their experiences and quality of life, to create a comprehensive picture of treatment practices and health outcomes in people with this condition. The resulting snapshot can show whether the treatment people receive helps them to recover and stay well, and their health outcomes can also be compared with the records of people in the 45 and Up cohort who do not have bipolar disorder, shedding light on any areas that may require a different approach.

The project will also use state-of-the-art whole genome sequencing of DNA samples from a subset of participants, allowing researchers to search for genetic factors that contribute to risk of bipolar disorder, and potentially for predicting which medications will be most effective for which individuals.

Funding Sources

  • Commonwealth grant funding awarded by the Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care
  • NHMRC Medical Research Futures Fund – Emerging Priorities and Consumer Driven Research Initiative – Mental Health Pharmacogenomics Grant

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