CBR features in worldwide Brain Awareness Week news round-up

The latest edition of the newsletter for members of the European Dana Alliance for the Brain (EDAB) the movers and shakers behind Brain Awareness Week worldwide, features a photo from our 2012 Auckland Brain Day, in amongst offerings from Spain, Croatia, Nigeria, and Turkey, to name but a few!

EDAB chose to showcase the attendance at our Brain Day of Mobility Dogs, who provide essential support for people living with epilepsy, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy and spinal cord injuries.  Visit the Mobility Dogs website to find out more about this extraordinary initiative.



Questions and Answers around Stem Cell Research

The Centre for Brain Research was privileged to host, on Wednesday 6 June, the first New Zealand session of a travelling seminar which began in Australia, called Stem Cells: Hope, Hype, and Progress.

Attendees at the seminar, including those suffering from debilitating neurological conditions, were able to a hear a refreshingly honest account of the current state of stem cell research worldwide – free from the sensationalism of those accounts which often feature in the press.

The challenges of finding, collecting, and culturing varying kinds of stem cells (and the ethical procedures surrounding this) were discussed, along with the different potentials each offered for laboratory work or therapeutics.

The take-home message of the day, from the three presenters, was that stem cells’ greatest promise, at this point in time, lay in what they could teach those scientists culturing them about the ‘everyday’ activities of the cell, and as a medium for drug discovery to treat currently untreatable conditions, rather than as direct therapeutic agents.

Free half-day seminar! Stem Cells: Hope, Hype and Progress

The Centre for Brain Research is excited to be hosting the Auckland session of Stem Cells: Hope, Hype, and Progress – A new conversation on stem cells and spinal cord injury, following its successful premiere in Australia last year.

The seminar is a joint venture between Stem Cells Australia, the Spinal Cord Injury Network Australia and New Zealand, and the Centre for Brain Research, and will feature two distinguished overseas speakers, a short film showing one man’s journey following his diagnosis with ALS, and an opportunity to ask questions or share your own experiences.

The seminar is open to all attendees, so if you or someone you know is living with a spinal cord injury, come along and learn about the latest in stem cell research!

RSVP to m.powell@auckland.ac.nz by Friday 25 May 2012

Rugby stars raise over $200,000 for spinal cord injury research and rehabilitation

What an amazing night we had on Friday! Our top scientists joined sports stars from all over New Zealand to raise money for spinal cord injury.

From L-R: Communications Manager Laura Fogg, SCIRU leader Professor Louise Nicholson, All Blacks captain Richie McCaw, and Brain Bee organiser Johanna Beattie

Hosted by The Black Friday Trust at the Langham Hotel, the event was called “Believe”, and more than lived up to its name as guests gave, and kept on giving, to three recipient charities: CatWalk (research), The Spinal Trust (rehabilitation) and the New Zealand Rugby Foundation (prevention and support).

Around $200,000 was raised for two important causes; upgrading the Auckland Rehabilitation Unit and supporting the newly-established Spinal Cord Injury Research Unit (SCIRU) based here at the Centre for Brain Research. SCIRU is led by Professor Louise Nicholson, who was there at the dinner, and forms part of the Integrative Neuroscience Facilities led by Associate Professor Bronwen Connor. The unit was established by the Catwalk Trust with the aim of finding a cure for spinal cord injury (SCI).

We were privileged to be part of the evening, and just a little overwhelmed by the star power of the number of All Blacks and Blacks Caps who also shared the dream. The players held nothing back in their efforts to raise funds. Ali Williams may be known as one of the ‘jokers’ of the All Black squad but had many in the crowd close to tears as he shared the emotional story of his father’s own experience with SCI and the impact a devastating injury can have on a family.

Catwalk’s equestrian founder Catriona Williams appeared on TV3’s Campbell Live alongside Conrad Smith in a special cross during the show, and research at the CBR was also profiled in the New Zealand Herald as well.

The star turn of the night came when the lights dimmed and MC Jackie Clarke announced a special guest making his musical debut. It was none other than All Blacks captain Richie McCaw, striding out of the mist, clad in full Scottish regalia amid a skirl of bagpipes! His pitch perfect rendition of Amazing Grace was indeed amazing and as the crowd sang along with him, we were reminded that working together can indeed improve lives!

Getting spinal injury victims back on their feet

New Zealand’s first Spinal Cord Injury Research Unit, dedicated to gaining a better understanding of the causes of disability following injury and to developing new treatments towards a cure, will be launched at The University of Auckland this week.

The research unit, based in the University’s Centre for Brain Research and established through a generous half million-dollar donation by the CatWalk Spinal Cord Injury Trust, will provide a focus for expertise and maintain spinal injury research models for researchers from throughout New Zealand working on spinal cord injury and repair. In addition, the unit will grow international collaborations, as well as playing a key role educating students in spinal injury research, raising clinical awareness and training emerging neuroscientists.

Current research carried out by Professor Louise Nicholson, Professor Colin Green and Dr Simon O’Carroll at the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences has discovered one of the critical changes that take place after spinal cord injury is an increase in the number of communicating channels, called gap junctions, between nerve cells. These channels play a major role in spreading the damage from the site of injury to areas that would otherwise not be affected.

The team has developed and tested small molecules called mimetic peptides that function to block these channels. Using models of spinal cord injury they have shown that delivery of this peptide early after an injury prevents inflammation, protects nerve cells from death and leads to improved locomotion.

Professor Nicholson says: “This is a very exciting breakthrough as currently no reliable treatment exists for acute spinal cord injury. If we can prevent the spread of damage early, people who suffer an injury may not have the same degree of disability and if we can act early enough, there may possibly be no disability at all.”

CatWalk Trust spokesperson Meg Spiers says: “Spinal cord injury is a major cause of disability for the young and active. Support of research and scientists of tomorrow is crucial. This unit offers the facilities for spinal injury researchers nationwide to progress their research to a clinical level.”

“CatWalk’s ultimate goal is to find a cure for spinal cord injury, and get people out of wheelchairs and back on their feet.” 


The Spinal Cord Injury Research Unit will open on Friday 12 August, ahead of the Black Friday Trust Dinner that evening. The dinner is organised by the New Zealand Rugby Players Association, and will host rugby players including the All Blacks to raise funds for spinal injury. One third of all the funds raised at this event will go towards the new research unit.
Every five days, a person suffers a spinal cord injury in New Zealand. The average age for an accident is 26 years, with a greater proportion of men being affected due to violence and sports related injuries. Rugby, boxing and diving participants are particularly prone to suffer injury.
The CatWalk Trust is a long-term sponsor of the Brain Bee Challenge competition for high school students since 2007.

Email: cbr@auckland.ac.nz for more information