The Centre for Brain Research congratulates our researchers for attracting over $5M of external funding for innovative brain research projects focusing on neurological disorders affecting premature babies and children.
Professor Alistair Gunn and Dr Justin Dean both received funding for their work with premature and newborn babies, while Dr Johanna Montgomery and Dr Jessie Jacobsen received funding to further our understanding of the factors underlying Autism, a neurological disorder which is usually diagnosed in early childhood, and Dr Trecia Wouldes was granted funding to study executive function in pre-schoolers exposed prenatally to methamphetamine.
Professor Alistair Gunn and his team received a grant of $4.8 million over five years, from the Health Research Council, to grow their research into perinatal brain injury. They will utilise a fetal sheep model to compare and evaluate the impact of current standard treatments for hypoxia, and to investigate new possibilities for blocking the spread of brain injury as a result of hypoxia. EEGs of the fetal sheep model may also provide useful future directions for rapid diagnostic criteria of perinatal brain injury, potentially increasing treatment efficacy.
Dr Justin Dean’s grant, from the Auckland Medical Research Foundation, totals $140,000 over two years, will enable him and his team to investigate the activity of a newly discovered enzyme in the brains of pre-term infants. The enzyme, titled PH20, is thought to play a key role in pre-term brain injury, and treatments which block its activity will be trialled as a possible therapeutic target for reducing pre-term brain injury caused by inflammation.
Meanwhile, Dr Jessie Jacobsen has been awarded a repatriation fellowship of $100,000 by the Neurological Foundation of New Zealand. Jessie will focus on investigating autistic traits and their relationship to genetics, using DNA sequencing technology, with a view to establishing a genetic profile which can indicate a predisposition to Autism Spectrum Disorders.
Dr Johanna Montgomery has also received funding from the Neurological Foundation of New Zealand to take a closer look at Autism. Johanna’s grant of $156,000 will enable her and her team to pursue a potential treatment for the synaptic deficits which occur in Autistic patients. They will investigate the efficacy of zinc in stabilising synapse proteins, to determine whether this results in recovery of synapse function, ultimately enhancing the ability of the brain’s cells to communicate with one another.
Dr Trecia Wouldes and her team will use their funding to extend the scope of their longitudinal study of methamphetamine exposed babies to determine whether early behavioural changes detected in these babies are associated with deficits in higher order thought at 4.5 years of age, in an attempt to determine whether the early effects of methamphetamine exposure persist.