Food and Mood Centre celebrates success

Food & Mood Centre Director, Professor Felice Jacka

The future of Deakin’s Food & Mood Centre looks brighter than ever thanks to the support of generous donors like the Wilson Foundation and the Fernwood Foundation.

In just two years, the Centre has established an enviable reputation as pioneers and centre of excellence in Nutritional Psychiatry research, the study of how what we eat influences our brain and mental health.

And not before time, too, with recent Deakin research revealing that almost 20 per cent of all Australians were affected by mental ill health at an economic cost of $12.8 billion.

The Centre’s Director, Professor Felice Jacka, credits the generous support of two major philanthropic partners – the Fernwood Foundation and the Wilson Foundation – as a crucial part of the team’s success since the Centre’s doors opened in 2016.

“The Fernwood Foundation came on board in early 2017, providing $500,000 to fund a new research fellowship and further research into the biological underpinnings that link diet and mental and brain health,” Professor Jacka said.

“Such research is vital if we want to understand the links between nutrition and mental health and target our interventions more effectively.

“These links have been a focus of research by our inaugural Fernwood Fitness Research Fellow, Dr Tetyana Rocks, who joined the team in 2017.

“Dr Rocks is now focused on developing educational material for current and future medical practitioners, which will facilitate a broader understanding of the link between diet and mental health and, perhaps most importantly, provide the necessary skills to help individuals and communities.”

In June 2018, the Centre received a remarkable $1 million gift – the Centre’s largest to date! – from the Wilson Foundation to support research linking the human gut microbiome to mental and brain health.

This remarkable gift also extends the Wilson Foundation’s existing partnership with the Centre for an additional five years.

“The generosity of the Wilson Foundation had already provided funding for a research fellow and research into the microbiome and mental health,” Professor Jacka said.

“The additional $1 million investment will significantly expand our research, providing insights that will result in new prevention and treatment strategies for disorders that impose the greatest burden of illness across the globe.

“It will mean that we have a secure salary for our post-doctoral researchers, who are critical to the program.

“It also ensures that we can now pay to have the valuable data we have collected analysed, which means we can start to understand how our resident microbiota influence our mental and brain health.”

With generous donors like these on board, Professor Jacka has grand plans for expanding the internationally renowned Centre, with hopes of securing funding in the next five years for a stand-alone Food & Mood Centre in central Geelong.

The planned centre of excellence for Nutritional Psychiatry research would include clinical spaces for patient consultations, training areas for clinicians, state-of-the-art laboratories and office space, and commercial kitchens to hold cooking workshops for individuals, schools and businesses.

“That’s what we’re hoping for,” Professor Jacka said.

“We are so incredibly grateful for the support of generous donors like the Fernwood and Wilson Foundations. We now need donations from the public to achieve that dream but that’s the aim over the next five years.”