About Associate Professor Anthony Harris

My focus in research is upon serious mental illness, its causes and cures. I have been fascinated by the many expressions of mental illness and profoundly affected by the impact that these illnesses (schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and severe depression) have upon people’s lives. Understanding how these illnesses are caused, using psychophysiology and neuroimaging as my tools, and then developing new treatments, usually psychosocial treatments but also pharmacological and physical, is at the core of what I do.

My research has centred on three themes – 1. The psychophysiology of psychosis, 2. Developing new and innovative approaches to treatment in major depression and psychosis, and 3. Communicating what good treatment is. The fragmentation of cortical function that occurs in psychosis is likely to have a basis in brain dysconnectivity. At the Brain Dynamics Centre at the Westmead Millennium Institute for Medical Research we use EEG and both structural and functional MRI to investigate brain connectivity. Present projects are examining changes in white matter tracts in psychosis and major depression and developing new ways to combine EEG and neuroimaging data to better elucidate brain changes. Treatment research is where we can make a direct difference in people’s lives. I am investigating how best to combine cognitive and social cognitive remediation with other treatments to improve real world outcomes for people with schizophrenia. This includes the use of the internet as a way to deliver these treatments to the home or clinic. The Brain Dynamics Centre has also been the key neuroimaging centre for one of the world’s largest studies aimed at predicting response to antidepressants in major depression – the International Study to Predict Optimized Treatment in Depression (iSPOT-D) and continues to publish using this rich database of information. The internet and social media are a rich resource for both teaching and treatment, but how best to use this new media? Medical professionals have been surprisingly slow to embrace these new technologies and this research aims at monitoring the use and delivery of information using the new media to establish how best to disseminate material, and how to help health professionals avoid the pitfalls of over – or under – use.

My research in psychosis has pursued the idea that the fragmentation of cortical function that occurs in psychosis is likely to have a basis in the underlying connectivity of the brain. This dysconnectivity may arise through functional or physical disruption and can be measured using either the electroencephalogram or neuroimaging. At the Brain Dynamics Centre at Westmead Millennium Institute for Medical Research we established that changes in high frequency oscillations in the gamma band was associated with psychosis soon after diagnosis. In an extension of this work we used non-linear approaches to map changes in the brain connectivity in psychosis in a pioneering study using graph theory. More recently we differentiated patterns of cortical volume loss in first episode schizophrenia and bipolar disorder as well as examine the pathophysiological relationship of different cortical areas in first episode psychosis.

Treatment research is central to my work. I have been in the forefront of developing cognitive remediation and social cognitive remediation approaches for psychosis in Australia. This work is based on earlier research that established the extent of cognitive deficits in young people with psychosis. I have published studies examining the effectiveness of neurocognitive remediation and social cognitive remediation in schizophrenia and have extended that work to using the internet to provide treatment in the home and clinic. I have also taken part in a number of multicenter drug trials that have centred on schizophrenia and major depression.

New information and treatments are essential but this has to be communicated to health professionals and the general public. I have helped in the development of NSW Health and Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists guidelines for treatment of schizophrenia. I was a member of the expert group writing the last two editions of the Therapeutic Guidelines - Psychotropic, specifically as the primary author for the Schizophrenia section. These guidelines are very widely used in Australia and New Zealand and are found in 27 countries internationally. Beyond the development of guidelines for the treatment of mental illness, I have been developing a series of mental health educational resources that use web-based means for delivery including webinars and learning management systems.

In addition to my research and teaching I work as a psychiatrist caring for young people with severe mental illness through the Prevention Early Intervention and Recovery Service based in Headspace Parramatta.

Selected publications

For a full list of Associate Professor Harris' publications please see his Sydney Medical School academic profile - here