CBR supports fundraiser for music therapy

Scientists from the Centre for Brain Research met Kiwi band Titanium this weekend, along with singers Anika Moa and Boh Runga.

Associate Professor Lynette Tippett, Dr Hinemoa Elder, Dr Clare McCann, Professor Suzanne Purdy, Professor Richard Faull and Alison Talmage meet the band Titanium

Associate Professor Lynette Tippett, Dr Hinemoa Elder, Dr Clare McCann, Professor Suzanne Purdy, Professor Richard Faull and Alison Talmage meet the band Titanium

The members of the SPICCATO research team were entertained by top kiwi stars, as part of a gala dinner fundraiser to help raise funds for the Raukatauri Music Therapy Centre (RMTC).

The SPICCATO project (funded by the Health Research Council) is investigating the benefits of CeleBRation Choir participation. The community singing group provides choral singing therapy for people with communication difficulties through brain diseases, like stroke and Parkinson’s disease. The team includes music therapist Alison Talmage, who has a joint role at the RMTC and also leads the CeleBRation Choir.

Professor Suzanne Purdy, Laura Fogg and Alison Talmage meet RMTC founders Hinewehi Moha and husband George Bradfield.

Professor Suzanne Purdy, Laura Fogg and Alison Talmage meet RMTC founders Hinewehi Mohi and husband George Bradfield.

The RMTC was established in 2004 by singer Hinewehi Mohi, whose daughter Hineraukatauri has cerebral palsy. After experiencing the benefits of music in the UK, Hinewehi turned to the New Zealand music industry to support her goal of establishing music therapy in New Zealand, helping children with developmental and learning difficulties.

The RMTC now supports hundreds of children each year, and is also starting to work with adults in conjunction with Music Therapy New Zealand. The CeleBRation Choir researchers are also keen to develop the benefits of music therapy for people with brain disease.

Overall the star-filled evening raised approximately $185,000 for the Raukatauri Music Therapy Centre.

Young students test the public’s brains

Māori and Pacific school students from across Auckland have taken on roles as scientists thanks to the Centre for Brain Research and the Liggins Institute. The results from their data collection at Brain Day were recently presented to impressed family, whānau and university staff attendees at the LENScience BrainWaves Seminar.

The LENScience Students as Researchers programme aims to introduce high school students to structured thinking around science questions. The students are mentored by scientists from The University of Auckland’s Centre for Brain Research, and are supported by teaching staff from the LENScience programme and their school teachers.

Maori and Pacific students presented their results to whanau and university colleagues at the LENScience BrainWaves Seminar

Maori and Pacific students presented their results to whanau and university colleagues at the LENScience BrainWaves Seminar

The 18 Year 10 Māori and Pacific students were from Tāmaki College, Aorere College and Southern Cross Campus. The learning programme enabled them to conduct their own research projects based on simple psychological tests looking at attention and creativity.The tests were carried out on the general public at Brain Day, with the theme of ‘Your Creative brain’. The experiments measured how the brain works, with the students designing hypotheses to see if colour, shape or music interfered with verbal skills.

And what did participants and attendees learn? That music doesn’t affect your ability to concentrate; that musicians are less affected by background noise; that any reading (fiction and non-fiction) improves your vocabulary; and that visual aids (rather than verbal prompts) are more helpful in triggering verbal skills.

The programme was a fantastic opportunity for students from low decile areas to experience science, and will hopefully encourage more Maori and Pacific students into scientific careers. The pilot project was created by LENScience Director Jacquie Bay and CBR Communications Manager Laura Fogg, and was developed in collaboration with Rosabel Tan and Associate Professor Donna Rose Addis. It is hoped the programme will expand to investigate ways to develop science literacy, providing students with the skills to analyse the questions that they will be confronted with in an increasingly challenging world of science and technology.

Meet the CBR Brain Day tweeter, Lucy Goodman

On March 16th 2013, scientists at the Centre for Brain Research engaged their ‘creative brains’ in an effort to raise interest in the brain and brain research.

Auckland Brain Day is a free public event and relies on CBR scientists to help the day run smoothly. The opportunity to contribute to Brain Day gave me the opportunity to engage my own creative neurons and think about brains outside of my own.

I am a PhD student at the CBR, where I am studying how neurons in the hippocampus talk to each other. I spend a lot of time thinking about neurons. However, rarely do I need to engage my own neurons and talk to other people about my research.

I was fortunate enough to be offered the role of ‘Social Media Coordinator’ for Brain Day 2013. This meant I was responsible for promoting the CBR and generating interest in our research via Twitter and Facebook. This gave me an excuse to read more about science and brain research, and think of creative ways to make this interesting to other people.

I was introduced to a whole new world of neuroscience that is not available to me in the lab. I discovered a group of journalists, science communicators, and scientists who just like talking about science. Most importantly, I looked beyond my own tiny area of research, and read stories about other types of neuroscience research very different from my own.

I personally believe that communicating about science is a useful exercise for any scientist. As a scientist-in-training, any opportunity to discuss neuroscience and research helps me potentiate my own thoughts on the topic. As you may know, ‘neurons that fire together, wire together’.

But I also believe that a successful scientist requires creative thinking skills and the ability to write a good story, and this years’ ‘creative brain’ theme was a great place for me to start. I feel that taking part in science communication events such as Brain Day has helped me strengthen these creative skills for my future career.

But as Saturday March 16th rolled around, I was pleased to step outside the online social media world and experience science communication in real life (or RL, as they say online).

You can follow the CBR @cbrnewzealand or look at our Facebook page Centreforbrainresearch.

Brain Day 2013 videos online

Information from Brain Day can now be viewed all year round with the Centre for Brain Research lecture repository.  All the videos from the day are now online including the lectures and discussions.

The videos can be viewed here: http://www.fmhs.auckland.ac.nz/faculty/cbr/brainweek/brainweek2013/brainday2013.aspx

Emma Morris won an iPod for taking part in Brain Day research

Tamati Hohepa won an iPod for completing his Brain Day passport

Tamati Hohepa won an iPod for completing his Brain Day passport

The winners of the Brain Day competitions have also been announced. Emma Morris from Glenfield took part in our Brain Day research and Tamati Hohepa from the Te Atatu Peninsula completed the passport competition. They each won an iPod for taking part and the results of the research will be published in


Emma Morris won an iPod for taking part in Brain Day research

New Zealand’s top Huntington’s disease researchers to speak at national conference

New Zealand’s foremost Huntington’s Disease (HD) research and clinical experts will speak at the national associations’ conference in Auckland on Saturday 18 and Sunday 19 May.

The speaker line-up includes New Zealand’s top neuroscientist Distinguished Professor Richard Faull, an internationally recognised expert on neurodegenerative diseases of the human brain. Professor Faull is the Director of The University of Auckland’s Centre for Brain Research which has had an established HD research programme since 1981. Professor Faull’s presentation is titled Huntington’s Disease – Exciting Human Brain Research with Family Support. Fellow University of Auckland researcher Professor Russell Snell, a member of the global team that discovered the HD gene in 1993, will provide an overview of learnings about HD from a genetics perspective.

Neurologist and HD clinical specialist Dr Richard Roxburgh will discuss the progress of an international clinical trial called CREST E* which is in phase 3 and involves 650 participants from around the world. Neuropsychiatrist and fellow clinical specialist Dr Greg Finucane will outline drug therapies in his lecture titled Calming the Stormy Seas. Patient service and care updates will be provided by national Huntington’s Disease Association staff, and all presentations within the two-day speaker programme are designed for the general public to understand.

Professor Faull, who is patron of Huntington’s Disease Association Auckland, says “The conference will be an opportunity for patients, families and medical professionals to learn about new global and local research and the latest developments in prospective treatments. It will also be a unique opportunity for the HD community to share knowledge and learn from the experience of others. This will be a very special meeting of those who share the ultimate goal of improving patients’ lives and ending Huntington’s Disease. “

For further details about the conference and to register, please phone: (09) 815 9703 or email conference2013@hdauckland.org.nz 

The conference will be held at the Waipuna Hotel and Conference Centre in Auckland and is supported by the Centre for Brain Research, the Neurological Foundation of New Zealand, and the Lion Foundation.



New understanding of hearing loss

A major breakthrough in the understanding of hearing and noise-induced hearing loss has been made by hearing scientists from the Centre for Brain Research.

Scientists from The University of Auckland, the University of New South Wales in Sydney, and the University of California in San Diego have collaborated for nearly 20 years on this research.

“This work represents a paradigm shift in understanding how our ears respond to noise exposure,” says Professor Peter Thorne from Centre for Brain Research at The University of Auckland, who is one of the co-authors of two papers published recently in the prestigious journal, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

“We demonstrate that what we traditionally regard as a temporary hearing loss from noise exposure is in fact the cochlea of the inner ear adapting to the noisy environment, turning itself down in order to be able to detect new signals that appear in the noise,” he says.

After the noise is turned off, hearing remains temporarily dull for some time while it readjusts to the lack of noise.

“Clinically, this is what we measure as a temporary hearing loss,” says Professor Thorne.  “This has always been regarded as an indication of noise damage rather than, in our new view, a normal physiological process.”

The research team includes Dr Srdjan Vlajkovic, who has shown that these changes are due to a molecular signalling pathway in the cochlea, mediated by a chemical compound called ATP, released by the cochlear tissue with noise and activating specific ATP receptors in the cochlear cells.

“Interestingly, if the pathway is removed, such as by genetic manipulations, this adaptive mechanism doesn’t occur and the ear becomes very vulnerable to longer term noise exposure and the effects of age, eventually resulting in permanent hearing loss. In other words the adaptive mechanism also protects the ear,” says Professor Thorne, who is a Deputy-Director of the Centre for Brain Research.

The second paper, done in collaboration with United States colleagues, reveals a new genetic cause of deafness in humans which involves exactly the same mechanism.

People (two families in China) who had a mutation in the ATP receptor showed a rapidly progressing hearing loss which was accelerated if they worked in noisy environments.

“This work is important because it shows that our ears naturally adapt to their environment, a bit like pupils of the eye which dilate or constrict with light, but over a longer time course,” Professor Thorne says.

This inherent adaptive process also provides protection to the ear from noise and age-related wear and tear. If people don’t have the genes that produce this protection, then they are more likely susceptible to developing hearing loss.

“This may go some way to explaining why some people are very vulnerable to noise or develop hearing loss with age and others don’t,” he says.

“Our research demonstrates that what we have always thought was temporary noise damage (ie the temporary hearing loss experienced in night clubs or a day’s work in factories), may not be this, but instead, is the ear regulating its sensitivity in background noise. “

“Although our research suggests that our hearing adapts in some noise environments, this has limits,” says Professor Thorne.  “If we exceed the safe dose of noise, our ears can still be damaged permanently despite this apparent protective mechanism.”

“People need to protect their ears from constant noise exposure to prevent hearing loss and this is particularly important in the workplace and with personal music devices which can deliver high sound levels for long periods of time,” he says.

Two neurological charities make the New Zealand top 25 to win a new car

Congratulations to the CBR’s Community Partners, MS Auckland and North Shore along with Huntington’s Auckland, who have each won a car from Toyota!

The charities receive a Toyota Corolla for 3 years, as part of Toyota’s ’25 Ways to Say Thanks’ campaign.

The winners were announced this week after a total of 515 charities registered to be in the running for one of 25 cars to use for three years. Nearly 40,000 people voted for their favourite charity through Facebook over the past four weeks.

The campaign for HD Auckland was spearheaded by PhD student Malvindar Singh, who used the power of social media to snare the much-needed car.

The manager of HD Auckland Jo Dysart says “This car is so important to us as it means our family liaison officers can get out to visit families with HD and provide help and support. We want to thank all those who voted for us – it was an amazing effort and the benefits will be felt by many families and clients for years to come.”

Videos from Brain Day online now!

brainday2013Videos from Brain Day have been delayed by computer problems at The University of Auckland. Look out for the presentations online next week at www.cbr.auckland.ac.nz/brainweek

Videos from Brain Day are now available and may be viewed by following the link below!


Check out the  photos from the day here!

Creative thinking

Universities are traditionally a hive of creativity, but on Saturday 16th March our scientists took us under the skin of inspiration to explore how creativity happens.

The neuroscience of art, music and dreaming were all showcased as part of Brain Day 2013, under the theme of ‘your creative brain’. The free annual expo is organised by the Centre for Brain Research (CBR), with support from the Neurological Foundation of New Zealand, and is part of international Brain Awareness Week. Over 2000 members of the public attended the event at the Business School, which featured science laboratory experiments, musical performances, and kids’ hands-on activities.

A packed out lecture programme ran throughout the day, with over 900 people attending lectures every hour.  The exciting topics included mind wandering by Emeritus Professor of Psychology Mike Corballis, research on imagination and creativity by Associate Professor Donna Rose Addis, and the latest science on understanding happiness by Dr Tony Fernando.

Centre for Brain Research Director Professor Richard Faull spoke about the creativity needed to develop collaborations at the University, bringing together scientists from divergent fields along with clinicians and the community. Professor Faull also revealed the latest plans to grow neurosurgery research in Auckland, with a campaign being launched later in the year to fund a new Neurosurgery Chair.

Professor Faull is keen to stress that everyone can be creative; “Every amazing work of art, literature or music in the history of civilisation has been generated by the human brain. We know from our studies that the more we keep active and expose ourselves to new experiences, the more new brain cells are generated. So it’s important to indulge in being creative – music, art and stimulating conversation will help to keep you young!”

Running parallel to the lectures was a discussion series featuring scientists and community experts discussing hot topics in the science of creativity. Members of the CeleBRation Choir, the university’s music therapy choir for people with neurological conditions, gave a well-received performance. Associate Professor of Education Peter O’Connor stressed the importance of play, while Oscar winning scientist Dr Mark Sagar discussed developments in computer animated life-like human faces.

Schoolchildren from across Auckland also had the chance to test their experimental skills, with the new ‘Students as Researchers’ programme. The scheme is a collaboration between the CBR and LENScience, a schools programme funded by the National Research Centre for Growth and Development. Promising Maori and Pacific students were given the opportunity to run psychological tests on the public, which they will then present to their scientist mentors in an upcoming seminar.

The venue had a wonderful vibe thanks to music from talented young musicians, including a jazz quartet from the School of Music and a string quartet from the Medical School. The Polytonix Chorus even treated the kids’ area to an impromptu rendition of Jingle Bells, along with children’s TV presenter Suzy Kato!

The Chair of the CBR Community Committee which organises the day is Dr Cathy Stinear. “Brain Day is always a great opportunity for people to interact with clinicians, scientists, and community support groups, and this year we were really inspired by the creativity theme. We are just so grateful for all the support we receive from the university to make this day happen.”

All lectures and discussions from Brain Day 2013 will be available on the web from Thursday 21st March at www.cbr.auckland.ac.nz/brainweek.

Latest issue of CBR magazine Connections out now

CBR Connections Issue SixIn this issue we look at creative thinking at Brain Day 2013, our plans for expanding neurosurgery research in Auckland, and review the new structure of the CBR.

Released as part of Brain Awareness Week 2013, our glossy magazine-style newsletter aims to communicate the excitement of neuroscience to the wider community, and is written for the general public. It contains articles on our researchers and their latest research, as well as updates and reviews on brain research events and activities in Auckland.

Read our ebook here, or download the PDF from the Centre for Brain Research website.