Neuroscience News March 2016 section

Director's Message: March 2016

Director's Message: March 2016

QBI Director Pankaj Sah reflects on an exciting start to 2016.

QBI Director Pankaj Sah's reflects on an exciting start to 2016.

2016 brings exciting growth at QBI. I would like to offer a warm welcome to Professor Peter Silburn and his team at the APCN.

Building on two decades of ground-breaking clinical research in the application of deep brain stimulation (DBS), APCN enables QBI to expand the clinical arm of our research. Professor Silburn and neurosurgeon Associate Professor Terry Coyne have performed more DBS procedures to treat neurological conditions such Parkinson’s disease and Tourette’s syndrome than any team in Australia.

I have had the pleasure of working alongside Terry and Peter during this time, investigating the effect of DBS electrodes on brain function. It is with great excitement that we continue to improve the design, delivery and functionality of customised therapeutic treatments.

I would also like to take the opportunity to congratulate QBI’s founding Director, Professor Perry Bartlett, who was recently awarded the prestigious CSL Florey Medal, as well as a Lifetime Achievement award from Research Australia. Perry continues to contribute to the field, and is currently exploring the role of exercise in reversing cognitive decline. This encouraging research program has been supported by the Stafford Fox Medical Research Foundation, and gives some hope to the 300,000 Australians currently living with dementia.

We have many encouraging research projects underway at QBI. This edition of Neuroscience News highlights just a few. I encourage you all to visit the Institute. Here you will witness first hand the extraordinary progress our research­ers are making in understanding how the brain learns and how it is damaged, and discovering ways to treat or cure disorders of brain function.

Neuromodulation innovation centre joins QBI

Neuromodulation innovation centre joins QBI

APCN, a world leader in deep brain stimulation, joins QBI

APCN, a world leader in deep brain stimulation, joins QBI

QBI has joined forces with the Asia-Pacific Centre for Neuromodulation (APCN) to boost the translation of research findings into the clinic.

APCN was founded in 2012, as a joint initiative of The University of Queensland and St Andrew’s War Memorial Hospital, to develop better and more cost-effective therapies for a range of neurological disorders.

In January this year APCN officially joined QBI, in a sign of their joint commitment to the integration of research, education and clinical care for the greatest human benefit.

QBI Director Pankaj Sah said APCN was an Asia–Pacific research leader in neuromodulation treatment.

“APCN builds on two decades of ground-breaking clinical research into the use of deep brain stimulation to treat Parkinson’s, among other conditions,” Professor Sah said.

“APCN brings together researchers from very different backgrounds to work together towards a single goal: to improve quality of life.

“The lead clinicians, Professor Peter Silburn and Associate Professor Terry Coyne, are central to APCN’s success, having performed more than 800 deep brain stimulation (DBS) procedures.

“They’re committed to following through research from building-block scientific discovery to new treatments.

“We welcome them and their team of 12 scientists and students to QBI, and look forward to working alongside them,” he said.

Current APCN research programs include:

  • Remote monitoring of people with Parkinson’s disease using GPS to measure quality of life, and personalisation of treatments.

  • Inserting first in-human ‘sense and respond” DBS devices in patients with treatment-resistant obses­sive compulsive disorder (OCD). This trial is one of the first of its kind in the world.

  • Testing next-generation stimulation and record devices to improve the design and functionality of new DBS devices.

Professor Sah also noted APCN’s commitment to educating the community and the next generation of scientists and clinicians.

“Most of the DBS clinicians in Australia were trained by Peter and Terry.

“We encourage APCN to play a role in our vibrant seminar series, sharing their work with scientists and the public,” he said.

Profile: Dr Fatima Nasrallah

Profile: Dr Fatima Nasrallah

Leading neuroimaging specialist Dr Fatima Nasrallah recently joined QBI

Leading neuroimaging specialist Dr Fatima Nasrallah recently joined QBI

Brain imaging specialist Dr Fatima Nasrallah hopes to develop tests that can better diagnose concussion.

Dr Nasrallah joined QBI in October 2015. Her research seeks to understand how head injury affects brain function, both at a cellular level as well as in the long-term.

“I am particularly interested in understanding how a head injury can increase the risk of neurodegeneration, ‘fast-forwarding’ the onset of dementias including Alzheimer’s disease,” Dr Nasrallah says.

Concussion, a temporary condition estimated to affect 42 million people worldwide each year, is a particular interest.

Concussion results when a whiplash effect or direct impact causes the brain to move and bump against the skull.

It is a mild form of traumatic brain injury, causing only functional changes in the brain, and cannot be diagnosed by neuroimaging tests like MRI and CT scans, which only detect changes to brain structure.

Repeated head injuries, even when mild, have been linked to increased risk for irreversible conditions including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

Dr Nasrallah’s research uses state-of-the-art imaging techniques to detect how injury affects the brain at a functional and molecular level, as well as how it changes the way the brain consumes energy.

She believes that a better understanding of the effects of concussion and other traumatic brain injuries would enable targeted treatments to be developed.

Diagnostic biomarkers to test for concussion

“Using biomarkers and imaging, we hope to develop an early diagnostic test that would enable preventative measures to be put in place,” Dr Nasrallah says.

“If early measures are taken, then irreversible damage can be avoided.”

Another aim of Dr Nasrallah’s work is to bridge the gap between preclinical and clinical research.

“Although there have been major advances in the understanding of how the brain works at the cellular level, there has been a tremendous lag in translating this knowledge to understanding human behaviour and brain diseases,” she says.

At QBI, she is working with both patients and in mouse models, using complementary biomarkers that can be used in both the laboratory and the clinic.

Dr Nasrallah was previously a Senior Fellow at the Clinical Imaging Research Centre in Singapore, where she led several clinical research studies on brain cancer, dementia, autism, stroke, and brain injury.

QBI Professor leads advanced neuroscience course

QBI Professor leads advanced neuroscience course

QBI will lead the Australian Course in Advanced Neuroscience in 2016

QBI's Professor Stephen Williams will lead the Australian Course in Advanced Neuroscience

QBI’s Professor Stephen Williams has taken the reins of a prestigious course training the best and brightest young neuroscientists from Australia and New Zealand.

The Australian Course in Advanced Neuroscience (ACAN) is an intensive three-week program held at UQ’s Moreton Bay Research Station, North Stradbroke Island.

The course delivers rigorous training in the theory and practice of neurophysiological and optical imaging techniques.

“For the last decade ACAN has provided valuable theoretical knowledge and research skills that greatly strengthen the future work of the students,” Professor Williams said.

“The course involves lectures and extensive hands-on laboratory training. We are constantly refining the course to teach the most cutting-edge neuroscience research methods,” he said.

Professor Williams became the new Director of ACAN, following on from Professor John Bekkers in September last year.

In 2016 the ACAN faculty also includes QBI’s Director Professor Pankaj Sah, Professor Geoffrey Goo­dhill and Professor Joe Lynch.

International instructors from the Asia-Pacific region and the EU join prominent faculty from across Aus­tralia and New Zealand to deliver the course.

“This program is not possible without the generous support of our university and industry sponsors,” Professor Williams said.

State-of-the-art equipment and supplies for the course are donated by key industry sponsors: Axon Instruments, CoolLED, Jenoptik, Scitech, Scientifica and Sutter Instrument.