Neurosurgery Chair Campaign launched in glittering style!

The evening of Tuesday 17 September saw the launch of CBR’s campaign to fund a Professorial Chair in Neurosurgery, to increase our linkages with Auckland District Health Board, and to foster reciprocal knowledge transfer between clinical discipline and academic research in this crucial area.  In recognition of their generous seeding gift of $2 million toward the campaign, the Chair will be named “The Freemasons Chair of Neurosurgery at the University of Auckland”

To read more about the campaign, and what its supporters have to say about it, click on the following link:

Professor Richard Faull with campaign drivers Dame Jenny Gibbs (L) and Dame Rosie Horton (R)

Professor Richard Faull with campaign drivers Dame Jenny Gibbs (L) and Dame Rosie Horton (R)

Former 'Fair Go' presenter Kevin Milne was the MC for the launch function.

Former ‘Fair Go’ presenter Kevin Milne was the MC for the launch function.

Vicki Lee and Tim Edmonds of Cure Kids NZ, with All Blacks Steven Luatua (L) and Charles Piutau (R)

Vicki Lee and Tim Edmonds of Cure Kids NZ, with All Blacks Steven Luatua (L) and Charles Piutau (R)


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.

CBR PhD Symposium a resounding success

The brightest and best upcoming talent from across the five schools and sixteen departments which make up the Centre for Brain Research all came together in one place last month for the first ever ‘CBR PhD student day’.  The day was conceived, organised, and executed by students, for students, with presentations, expert panels and interactive sessions such as ‘speed dating’ and a variant of the ‘three-minute thesis’ challenge.

The highlight of the day was the opening address by Dr Mark Sagar, CBR member and principal investigator of the Laboratory for Animate Technologies, formerly of Weta Digital, in which he covered the progress of his interesting career to date, with a few tips and points of advice for PhD students in terms of thinking broadly about careers, communication and building networks for the future.

Dr Mark Sagar addresses the Inaugural CBR PhD Student Day

Dr Mark Sagar addresses the Inaugural CBR PhD Student Day

The day also featured a research showcase, with attendees encouraged to draw/write the topics and techniques that they encounter in their daily research, and group these with others, then make connections between their research and related disciplines/techniques, with the result taking on a very web-like – or perhaps cell matrix-like – appearance.  It was a good way to get people talking about how their work related to others and to understand the breadth of the ‘whole picture’ that CBR represents.  People were keen to participate, as the photo below shows!

The 'range of research' - from intracellular to interpersonal.

The ‘range of research’ – from intracellular to interpersonal.

Special acknowledgement is due to all the hard work of organising and executing this event done by members of the BrainWaves committee and others!

CBR Hosts Launch of ‘Minds for Minds’ Campaign

The Centre for Brain Research was the setting last week for the launch of the ‘Minds for Minds’ campaign, an initiative of the Autism Research Network New Zealand (ARNNZ), to raise awareness and funding for research into the genetic causes of Autism.  They are also seeking people on the autism spectrum to join a research register, which will be used to collect genetic and autobiographical information.

Over a hundred people packed our seminar room space to hear a series of the lead researchers from the network give a precis of their research, and how it contributes to the ‘overall picture’, before the unveiling of the campaign phrase ‘Minds for Minds’, together with its appealing brain logo.  To read columnist Deborah Hill Cone’s view of the campaign and its significance, click here:

ARNNZ lead researcher Professor Russell Snell with journalist Deborah Hill Cone.

ARNNZ lead researcher Professor Russell Snell with journalist Deborah Hill Cone.

Several of the founding members of ARNNZ are also CBR members, and it looks as though they mean to apply the same principles of working alongside clinical experts and members of the community to ensure the best results for those living with autism, and their families.  Go to to find out how you can be part of the picture.

ARNNZ members flank the 'Minds for Minds' logo. L-R: Associate Professor Karen Waldie (CBR), Dr Johanna Montgomery (CBR), Professor Ian Kirk (CBR), Dr Mike Taylor, Professor Russell Snell (CBR), Dr Jessie Jacobsen (CBR), and Dr Rosamund Hill

ARNNZ members flank the ‘Minds for Minds’ logo. L-R: Associate Professor Karen Waldie (CBR), Dr Johanna Montgomery (CBR), Professor Ian Kirk (CBR), Dr Mike Taylor, Professor Russell Snell (CBR), Dr Jessie Jacobsen (CBR), and Dr Rosamund Hill

CBR in the News!

The Centre for Brain Research has been getting in the news this week – for all the right reasons!

On Wednesday 17th July, Professor Richard Faull was interviewed by Kathryn Ryan on Radio New Zealand’s ‘Nine to Noon’ programme, discussing the discovery of stem cells within the brain, and the controversy this finding caused in the research world.  They also cover the evolution of the Neurological Foundation Human Brain Bank, and the links it creates and maintains with clinician, community, and the families of those affected by neurological disease.  You can listen to a recording of the interview here:

Later in the day, Professor Faull also featured on on Sky Sports’ ‘Deaker on Sport’ programme, talking with Murray Deaker and neurologist Rosamund Hill about concussion and our growing understanding of its long-term effects – always a relevant issue in our sport-focused nation.

A breakthrough in understanding the behaviour of stem cells as they ‘bed down’ in their destination within the brain has lead to media exposure for Dr Maurice Curtis and his lab, with a report on their latest research appearing in the New Zealand Herald.   Read the full article here:

Centre for Brain Research hosts 2013 Brain Bee Competition

In a close final round, Auckland Grammar student Thomas Chang won the North Island Brain Bee Challenge, held at The University of Auckland’s Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences this week.

The runners-up were Tiger Huang from Auckland International College and Stephanie Soon from Westlake Girls High School. It could possibly have been an Auckland Grammar 1-2 finish as Tiger Huang was an AGS pupil until the start of this year when he entered Auckland International College.

These students took the top three spots from a group of seven finalists that also included Elizabeth Huang (St Cuthberts College), Samuel Dobson (Palmerston North Boys High), Stephen Lunn (Kings College) and Ewen Tun (Kings College).

The Teams final was won by Epsom Girls Grammar with Westlake Girls High second, and St Cuthberts College third.

The day’s neuroscience knowledge challenge was contested by nearly 200 students from 44 North Island schools. Quizmaster for the day is a research fellow in biological sciences at The University of Auckland, Dr Jessie Jacobsen.

The day was co-ordinated by Dr Maurice Curtis and the founding organiser of the NZ Brain Bee, Professor Louise Nicholson, and hosted by the Centre for Brain Research.

During the day, students took time out to participate in tours of the research laboratories, hands-on activities, visit the MRI scanner and the Anatomy Learning Centre.

“The visit is inspiring for the students and we believe that their experiences with us here at the Brain Bee influences their choices as they move forward into tertiary study,” says the founding organiser of the New Zealand  Brain Bee, Professor Louise Nicholson.

The Brain Bee has been going since 2007, so many of the winning students are now in tertiary study including past winners, George Shand, William Zhang, Rachel Wiltshire and Kate Burgess who are all studying at the Faculty for Medical and Health Sciences.

The Brain Bee is one of the largest student competitions in New Zealand.  Round one was held in Brain Awareness week in March when the 1500 plus registered participants complete in an on-line multi-choice quiz run within their schools.

“We invite the top 200 to this North Island finals day, with the winner of each of the North and South Island competitions go to Australia for the National finals”, says Professor Nicholson.  “The Australia/NZ national final involves the eight states and two from New Zealand all competing to represent their respective countries in the International Brain Bee final which this year is in Vienna.”

The CatWalk Spinal Cord Injury Trust is the main sponsor of both the North and South Island competitions, while the Centre for Brain Research sponsors our winners to Australia, with Freemasons (NZ) sponsoring the overall winner to the international final.

Written by Suzi Phillips

World first treatment helps with lazy eye

Playing Tetris under controlled conditions may be a cure for lazy eye in both children and adults. Although amblyopia is often known as “lazy eye” the impairment in vision is due to abnormal development within visual areas of the brain, not a defect of the eye.

Dr Ben Thompson

Dr Ben Thompson

The world first Tetris experiments were devised by vision scientist Dr Ben Thompson, from The University of Auckland’s Centre for Brain Research, in collaboration with a team including Professor Robert Hess from McGill University.

You can watch Dr Ben Thompson discussing his work, and see examples of the special tetris being played, on One News’ broadcast of 26 April by clicking here.  (content loads slowly)

These experiments showed that presenting a higher intensity Tetris stimulation to the affected eye than the good eye, helps train both eyes to work together.  Different blocks are presented to each eye and the two eyes must work together for the game to be played.

The team’s latest study published in ‘Current Biology’, demonstrated fast improvements in vision after the Tetris treatment, and that the benefits have so far proven to last at least three months.

“We found much larger improvements in patients who were treated with the version of the Tetris game that encouraged both eyes to work together than those that played Tetris with their good eye patched.”, says Dr Thompson.

Participants in the study were given special video goggles to help their eyes work as a team and asked to play Tetris for one hour a day for ten days.  At the end of the period, their lazy eye showed significant improvement in binocular ability.

Dr Thompson is a co-inventor of the Tetris game-based treatment for amblyopia and holds patents for the treatment regime.

Amblyopia is a disorder of binocular vision and with the way that the brain interprets information as it suppresses or ignores signals to one or other of the eyes.  The treatment is a new way of training both eyes to work together.

It’s estimated that one in 50 children has lazy eye, or amblyopia. This condition occurs when the brain receives different images from each eye during childhood which can be due to the eyes being misaligned.. Without intervention, it can lead to permanent loss of vision in the weaker eye.

The traditional treatment for lazy eye has been to patch the good eye to force the lazy eye to work. This treatment can be effective, but many children object to wearing the eye patch.

It was originally assumed that patients with amblyopia did not have the connections in the brain to use both eyes at the same time.  This study shows that patients could use both eyes at the same time, if the images to the lazy eye were more visible than those to the good eye.  The level of visibility is changed until both eyes are trained to work together – this takes about 10 days.

Dr Thompson is now hoping to gain funding for a large clinical trial that will take up to a year, again in collaboration with the study team.  If the clinical trials are positive the hope is that the treatment will become available to patients.

The study was funded by the Health Research Council and the Auckland Medical Health Research Foundation.

Written by Suzi Phillips,