Dr Alex Fornito

The University of Melbourne
Research Field: Psychiatry and Neuroscience

Dr. Fornito’s research is focused on brains; how they work, how they are affected by mental illness and how they are influenced by our genetic make-up. Our brains are extraordinarily complex networks, made up of billions of nerve cells interconnected by trillions of fibers. Disturbances in the way these brain cells communicate can lead to mental illnesses such as anxiety, depression and schizophrenia. His research uses brain scans to map how brain networks are wired, how they are influenced by differences in our genetic make-up, and what happens to these networks when young people develop mental disorders.

This work helps us to understand how brain dysfunction can give rise to psychiatric illnesses and which specific genes may be involved. Identifying these genes will allow us to understand risk factors for mental illness. This information can be used to target high-risk individuals with treatments aimed at preventing disease onset and to help identify novel targets for new treatments.

Alex actively pursues opportunities to disseminate research findings to the wider community. His work is frequently featured in popular media. In 2004-2005 he published the first evidence linking brain folding variations to cognitive abilities. This work was featured in newspapers across the county, including The Australian, The Age, The Daily Telegraph, The Advertiser (Adelaide), The Canberra Times, and The West Australian. Alex also completed radio interviews for ABC News Radio and 2GO FM and presented a television segment describing the research on network Ten’s Totally Wild, a science education program for children. Last year he also published the first evidence of genetic influences on brain wiring. This attracted international media attention and Alex completed interviews for The Age, Cosmos, Australasian Science, ABC News Radio and French Magazine Le Monde De L-Intelligence. Alex has also featured in The Age’s Ask-an-Expert column.

In addition to the many media engagements Alex also gives an annual lecture to Year 9 students at PEGS (Penleigh and Essendon Grammar School) on brain development mental illness.