High-profile depression duo joins Flinders

Professors Ma-Li Wong and Julio Licinio

Moving to Flinders University has truly been a family affair for Julio Licinio and Ma-Li Wong, two world-renowned obesity and depression experts.

The husband and wife team (both pictured) has just joined the University’s Department of Psychiatry from the Australian National University in Canberra, reuniting the pair with their daughter, Alice, who began a double degree in biomedical engineering and medical science at Flinders earlier this year.

As the new Strategic Professors of Psychiatry Research, Professors Licinio and Wong will be responsible for building clinical research on the link between depression and obesity, with a focus on the metabolic consequences of mental illness.

“There’s a relationship both with obesity and depression and depression and obesity so people with obesity end up with a higher likelihood of developing depression and people with depression are more likely to become obese,” Professor Wong said in an interview with Flinders Indaily.

“What we’re interested in is the biological basis of major depression, and how the relationship between depression and obesity occurs,” she said.

The pair will be based at the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI), where Professor Licinio has just been appointed the inaugural Mind and Brain Theme Leader.

As part of the SAHMRI role he will set up an International Translational Psychiatry Consortium consisting of 35 researchers across 10 countries who will work together on all facets of depression research, from lab discoveries to potential treatments.

Professor Licinio said he also hoped to establish a new masters of translational medicine course at Flinders, bringing research from the bench to the beside.

“We’re eager to collaborate with our colleagues here at Flinders and we plan to have Flinders graduate and PhD students working with us,” Professor Licinio said.

“There’s a lot of clinical research occurring in this area, including clinical trials, and we’re looking forward to contributing to that and also helping to synergise our efforts within the department,” added Professor Wong.

Born in Brazil, Professor Licinio trained in endocrinology and psychiatry at the University of Chicago and Cornell Medical Centre starting in 1984 while Professor Wong graduated from medical school in Brazil and moved to the US in 1985, where she trained in psychiatry at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York and at the National Institute of Mental Health.

The pair has spent the past 25 years researching depression at several major US research institutions including Yale, the National Institute of Mental Health in Maryland, the University of California Los Angeles and the University of Miami.

Flinders University’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research), Professor David Day, said the University was pleased to partner with SAHMRI to bring such a high profile team to South Australia.

“Mind and Brain research, including neuroscience and psychiatry, is one of Flinders’ established strengths and the new appointments will greatly enhance our capability,” Professor Day said.

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