Surgeon’s quest for a cure
After years of losing patients to brain tumours despite having access to the best of modern medicine, a Brisbane neurosurgeon has had enough.
Dr Sarah Olson has teamed up with businesswoman and philanthropist Beverley Trivett of the John Trivett Foundation to raise funds for brain tumour research.
“I had a sudden epiphany one day when I realised that surgeons such as myself cannot cure brain tumours,” Dr Olson said.
“Only research holds the key to improving treatments for these devastating cancers, so by investing in our most promising researchers today, we can make a difference in the treatment available tomorrow.”
The John Trivett Foundation is raising $1.5 million for a senior research fellow to be based between two institutes at UQ: the Institute for Molecular Bioscience (IMB) and QBI.
Professor Perry Bartlett said the support of the John Trivett Foundation would coalesce the city’s brain cancer research.
“There are several different laboratories working on brain tumours at QBI, IMB and beyond, but no single group is solely focussed on these cancers,” Professor Bartlett said.
QBI opened its doors to more than 175 delegates, including 25 esteemed speakers, from around Australia and across the globe for the 7th Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease Symposium (A+PD) in September.
Like previous symposia, the event brought together a distinguished range of international and Australian speakers presenting and sharing their latest discoveries in the field of neurodegeneration.
The impressive speaker line-up included a Keynote Lecture from the University of Melbourne’s Professor Ashley Bush, who was recently awarded a prestigious NHMRC Fellowship in recognition of his ground-breaking work in the diagnosis and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.
Attendees heard from researchers from the United States, China and Germany, with international Keynote Lectures being given by Professors Christian Behl (University of Mainz), Christian Haass (German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases, Munich) and Angus Nairn (Yale University).
Organised by Professor Jürgen Götz (QBI) and Professor Lars Ittner (University of New South Wales), the event alternates on an annual basis between QBI and the University of New South Wales.
New York University’s (NYU) Professor Gordon Fishell shared his insights into wiring and disease in the nervous system at the annual Merson Lecture.
“The nervous system, like all biological systems, self-assembles,” said Professor Fishell.
“They achieve this by mutual signalling between the neural cell types that comprise it.”
Inhibitory cells, he explained, act as the yin to the excitatory cells’ yang.
Excitatory cells carry information and allow an external world to be internalised and represented in the brain.
“The inhibitory cells, the cortical interneurons, keep the excitatory cells in check and prevent the networks from overloading and causing problems such as epilepsy or schizophrenia,” he said.
Professor Fishell’s laboratory explores the developmental events by which these cells acquire their identities.
“What we have discovered is that the very electrical signals that ultimately allow us to perceive the world are the same ones that are used to assemble our nervous system.”
Not all dysfunction results in brain disease according to Professor Fishell’s research. “A false dichotomy is that disease can be caused by genes or environment, while in fact the two are interlinked.
“Environment affects gene expression and genes affect environment.”
Luke Sartor is the recipient of this year’s Aleks Brumby Scholarship.
With a Grade Point Average of 6.889 out of a possible 7, Luke was selected out of a final list of 16 candidates based on academic merit and research potential.
During the QBI Summer Research Program for 2013/2014 he will work closely with Professor Linda Richards and Dr Jens Bunt.