QBI stroke researchers stimulate the growth and development of neurons to improve learning

QBI stroke researchers stimulate the growth and development of neurons (brain cells) to improve learning

Neurogenesis occurs in the hippocampus of a mouse brain. Newly-born cells (green) and new neurons (red) are found amongst other brain cells (blue).


The hippocampus is a region of the brain crucial to learning and memory. The majority of stroke survivors display decreased hippocampal volume and significant impairment to cognition.

QBI researchers have found that stimulating the production of new neurons (neurogenesis) in the hippocampus in animal models of stroke can result in almost complete recovery from learning and memory deficits.

Recent discoveries have shown that exercise is an effective way to stimulate neuronal production and recovery in animals that have had a stroke. A potential molecular mechanism underlying this effect has been identified and is currently being investigated further.

The aim is to develop both physical and pharmacological therapeutic approaches for use in humans who have suffered a stroke. 

Dr Lavinia Codd is using a variety of techniques to stimulate the production of new neurons in an animal model of stroke and evaluating the resulting improvements in spatial learning, or an animal’s ability to memorise various locations and their spatial relationships.

The proposed new stroke laboratories will build on the pioneering work of Professor Perry Bartlett’s group, including Dr Codd, and Professor Bartlett’s exceptional career in neurogenesis.

About Dr Lavinia Codd – Stroke Researcher and Stroke Survivor

Stroke research is intensely personal for Dr Codd. After suffering a stroke and becoming a stroke survivor, she is now a postdoctoral research fellow at QBI, in Professor Perry Bartlett’s laboratory.

Dr Codd began her working life at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), where she became a member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants. She worked in both the Brisbane and South London offices of PwC, as well as the London office of the Swiss Bank Corporation, and The Walt Disney Company (Australia) in Melbourne. However, after the birth of her first child, Lavinia embarked on a career change and returned to UQ to study science.

Stroke affects people of all ages

Mid-way through her studies, aged just 31 and with two young children, Dr Codd suffered a stroke.

The nature of Dr Codd’s deficits meant that options for appropriate rehabilitation were limited, so she resumed her Bachelor of Science to drive her cognitive recovery, going on to complete her PhD in Professor Bartlett’s laboratory. It was during this time that Dr Codd developed a technique for inducing a small stroke that only affected an animal’s ability to form new spatial memories whilst not impacting on motor function. This meant that cognitive function could be tested far more easily than with traditional stroke models.

Stem cell transplants are being heavily investigated around the world. However, the identification by Professor Bartlett’s group of different populations of latent hippocampal stem cells that can be activated by distinct pathways may make the need to obtain stem cells from an alternative source redundant. Dr Codd has built on the extensive findings from her colleagues, in Professor Bartlett’s laboratory, regarding activation of the different hippocampal stem cell populations in the normal and the aged brain.

Neurogenesis the key to recovery following stroke

She is examining what effect activating various hippocampal stem cells has on neurogenesis in an animal model of stroke and is currently determining the impact of this on cognitive recovery following stroke. Excitingly, initial results indicate that if a stroke survivor receives certain treatments, then they may be able to exploit the brain’s own natural ability to increase neurogenesis to compensate for stroke-induced deficits. Dr Codd and Professor Bartlett will also examine if there is an interaction between neuroinflammation and neurogenesis following stroke and how such relationships may impact on cognitive recovery.

Dr Codd’s ultimate aim is to translate positive laboratory findings into new behavioural and pharmacological approaches to restore cognitive functions in human stroke survivors. To spearhead this initiative, Dr Codd has established the Stroke Advisory Board which was formed to promote ongoing stroke research and its potential to improve recovery outcomes for stroke survivors, as well as to raise funds to substantially increase QBI’s research capacity into stroke.

Dr Codd is also active in raising awareness of stroke and from her personal experiences advocates the position that recovery happens over the course of an entire lifetime and is not restricted to the immediate post-stroke years.

Watch: Dr Lavinia Codd discusses stroke

Read more: QBI's stroke fundraising initiative
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