Clean Sweep for CBR Students

CBR students swept the awards pool at the University of Auckland’s Faculty of Science poster competition last week, where students practise skills essential for future conference attendance.  The challenge is to produce a poster relating to the student’s area of study, which is both informative and good-looking.  The poster then serves as a springboard for the student to discuss their work and answer questions posed by passers-by (some of whom are likely to be judges!)

First place went to Charlotte Connell, from the Exercise Metabolism Laboratory, for her poster titled “Coffee: More than Meets the Eye”, while Yvette Lamb, from the Human Neuroscience Laboratory, and Aleea Devitt, from the Memory Lab, took second and third place respectively.  Pictured below are the prizewinners posing with their posters.

Charlotte Connell with her winning poster.

Charlotte Connell with her winning poster.

Yvette Lamb with her poster.

Yvette Lamb with her poster.

Aleaa McDavitt with her poster.

Aleaa McDavitt with her poster.

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Funding boost for CBR researchers

The latest round of project grants from the Health Research Council of New Zealand were announced last week, and three CBR members have received sizeable grants – a real vote of confidence in what is a highly competitive process which often sees less than ten percent of applications go on to receive grants.

Professor Peter Thorne (below) receives $966,266 over 36 months for Imaging the labyrinthine-blood barrier in Meniere’s disease.  Meniere’s disease is a disorder of the inner ear that affects hearing and balance, leading to hearing loss and episodes of vertigo.

Peter Thorne

Dr Ben Thompson receives $1,167,538 over 36 months for A randomized clinical trial of a new binocular treatment for amblyopia.  You can read more about this research here: http://www.fmhs.auckland.ac.nz/faculty/newsandevents/new_news_details.aspx?Id=1027

Dr Ben Thompson

Dr Ben Thompson

Dr Deborah Hay receives $1,199,853 over 36 months for Adrenomedullin 1 receptor antagonists as novel anti-angiogenic agents.  An excellent result for these researchers and for CBR.

Debbie Hay

PhD student awarded prestigious opportunity to study in USA

Neuroscientist Chantelle Fourie has a rare opportunity to spend three months near Boston, Massachusetts, researching her dream project.

Chantelle, a PhD student at the University of Auckland’s Centre for Brain Research, is one of only 12 young neuroscientists from around the world to be awarded a coveted Grass Fellowship in neuroscience research.

Her specialist area, and the subject of her almost completed PhD, is the brain’s hippocampus, involved in learning and memory. Chantelle has studied with Dr Johanna Montgomery who runs the synaptic function research group. At the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, she will focus on using optogenetics to map inhibitory circuitry and probe its function in the hippocampus.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity to meet some of the world’s eminent neuroscientists and learn from them, and to make connections with other scientists there for later collaborations,” she says. “This research has not been done in Auckland, but I’ll be able to return with the knowledge and experience to set up a similar facility here.”

Optogenetics is the study of using light to to control the genetic transcription, and therefore the activity, of individual neurons in living tissue. The technique is exciting much interest because it can be used in freely-moving animals in real-time, and so scientists can precisely alter the activity of specific brain areas without directly affecting a subject’s behavior.

Chantelle will take up the fellowship in May and spend the northern summer at Woods Hole, returning to New Zealand in September.

“It’s a dream come true and very exciting to be able to work on this project,” she says. “Although it was hard to come up with a project that can be set up and completed in just 14 weeks.”

Chantelle is due to hand in her doctoral research thesis in May, before she leaves to take up the Fellowship, and says it’s great motivation for finishing on time. Many of the post-doctoral students who do summer research at Woods Hole are able to get results and publish in that short time, partly due to the level of support offered by the scientific community there.

The Grass Fellowship includes all expenses involved with the visit and the research laboratory and equipment, paid for by the Grass Foundation which is a non-profit private foundation set up to support research and education in neuroscience. The Fellowship is intended to help neuroscientists during the early stages of their career to conduct independent research within the intellectual and social group at the MBL community.

Learning from nature’s killing machines

Leading marine researcher Professor John Montgomery has been awarded a prestigious James Cook Research Fellowship from the Royal Society of New Zealand. His research will look at the evolution of a cerebellum-like neuronal machine in shark brains.

Professor Montgomery is the Director of the Leigh Marine Laboratory and a member of the Centre for Brain Research. You can read more about John’s research in the CBR Connections magazine.

The James Cook Research Fellowships are awarded to researchers at the pinnacle of their research careers who can demonstrate that they have achieved national and international recognition in their area of scientific research. A small number of prestigious Fellowships are awarded annually to researchers who are recognised leaders in their respective fields.

The Fellowship will allow John to concentrate on his chosen research for two years without the additional burden of administrative and teaching duties. The funding package annually is $100,000 plus GST and up to $10,000 plus GST in relevant expenses.

Marsden funding to boost brain research

The latest round of grants from the Marsden Fund, administered by the Royal Society of New Zealand, brought good news for three CBR researchers, who have each  been given an opportunity to establish or substantially extend their research programmes.  The Marsden Fund supports research excellence in science, engineering and maths, social sciences and the humanities, and competition for grants is intense.   Marsden funding is regarded as the hallmark of excellence for research in New Zealand.

Professor Michael Corballis [pictured below with collaborator Dr Gurjica Badkova], has been granted $760,000 to extend his research into the relationship between handedness and cerebral asymmetry for language, which helps to reveal information about the origins of speech in humans.

Donna-Rose Addis, pictured below, received a grant of $780,000 which will enable her and her team to continue their investigations into ‘future memory’, and its relationship to imagination and creative thinking, aided by the latest imaging technology.

Lastly, Dr Meagan Barclay received a ‘fast-start’ grant from the Marsden council.  These grants are specifically targeted toward promising researchers at the beginning of their careers, and are intended to facilitate researchers in beginning an independent research programme.  Meagan will use her grant of $345,000 to establish a project which will characterise synaptic structure and function in the cochlea.

CBR Calendar 2013 – your sneak peek!

Following on from the success of last year’s CBR calendar, showcasing samples of the amazing cell and brain-imaging work done by our members, we called for examples of this year’s best work – and the results were stunning!

Thirteen images have been selected for publication – the top three, by number of votes, are shown below:

‘The Panels of Life’, by Janusz Lipski and Ji-Zhong Bai

The Corpus Callosum as revealed by diffusion tensor imaging, by Sarina Iwabuchi

Neurons and astrocytes from adult human brain tissue, by Thomas Park

Student Research Recognised

The Centre for Brain Research congratulates Malvindar Singh-Bains on winning the prize for ‘Best Student Poster Presentation’ at the recent Australasian Winter Conference on Brain Research held in Queenstown.

Her presentation was identified as the winner from a field of 66 entries, by a panel of ‘undercover’ judges, who mingled with conference-goers evaluating the presenters and their posters.

Malvindar’s poster, titled ‘The Human Globus Pallidus in Huntington’s Disease: Volume reduction and differential cell loss between external and internal segments’, covers the research she is undertaking for her PhD, and the methods used to evaluate and compare cell loss and volume reduction.

Malvindar’s approach of presenting as though ‘telling a story’ obviously worked for her.  She says, ‘I feel rather humble about this because there were so many fantastic posters demonstrating high quality research on display.  I’m really proud to represent the Centre for Brain Research, and I thoroughly enjoyed both the conference, with such a variety of neuroscience on offer, and the beauty of Queenstown at this time of the year!’

Congratulations, Malvindar.

Malvindar is pictured below, with her winning entry.