Dream money for neuroscience research

Generous donors have kick-started two exciting new neuroscience projects in the Centre for Brain Research.

The first donation will enable our NeuroDiscovery Unit (formerly called the Integrative Neuroscience Facilities) to appoint a new Technical Manager in 2013. The generous support of $100,000 comes from Dame Jenny Gibbs, a CBR Ambassador and long-time friend of the University of Auckland. Funding has also been boosted by a donation of $50,000 from an anonymous donor via our website.

CBR Director Professor Richard Faull says, “I call this dream money, as it gets these imaginative blue sky projects off the ground. We are just so grateful for this generous support to help fight neurological disease.”

The NeuroDiscovery Unit is led by Associate Professors Bronwen Connor and Nigel Birch and undertakes pre-clinical neuroscience research. The technical manager will organise and run the unit to enable collaboration across the CBR.

A grant of $50,000 from the Freemasons of New Zealand has also supported an imaginative new initiative for Alzheimer’s research led by Professor Russell Snell. This will bring a group of international experts together to plan a worldwide collaborative research programme for the development of a transgenic sheep model for Alzheimer’s disease. This research will be driven from the CBR and involve leading geneticists and Alzheimer’s researchers from the UK, USA, Australia and New Zealand.

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Picking the ideal treatment for people with schizophrenia – new project funded in the CBR

Patients with schizophrenia could soon be prescribed tailored drugs for their biology, as a new project gets underway in the Centre for Brain Research. Funding from the Auckland Medical Research Foundation has enabled promising Research Fellow Dr Valerie Anderson to undertake the research.

Standard medications are not affective in approximately a third of people with schizophrenia, and these patients are considered ‘treatment-resistant’. Alternative medication and combinations of antipsychotics must be used, but these medications have a greater risk of inducing serious side effects and therefore are avoided where possible. Consequently, people with treatment-resistant schizophrenia often experience many years of unsuccessful therapy with standard medications before alternatives are prescribed, during which time their symptoms severely affect daily living and have a significant impact on long-term outcomes.

 The Psychopharmacology team will now investigate whether they can identify measurable biological characteristics (biomarkers) that could be used to predict whether people with schizophrenia will be treatment-resistant. Brain magnetic resonance imaging, electroencephalography, and neuropsychological data will be collected and analysed to investigate the structure and function of the brain in people with schizophrenia who are treatment-resistant, and the findings compared to people with schizophrenia who respond well to standard medications and normal subjects.

 Identification of reliable biomarkers to predict treatment-resistant schizophrenia would enable alternative medications to be prescribed earlier in the disease course. This will ultimately minimise the time that these patients experience debilitating symptoms, leading to improved outcomes for them, and reducing the burden on their families and health care providers.

 The Auckland Medical Research Foundation has also funded two new PhD scholarships at the Centre for Brain Research. Foundation Executive Director Kim McWilliams says: “Many of these researchers already have and will go on to become leaders and internationally recognised in their particular discipline or field of medicine.”

 Projects:

Biomarkers for treatment resistant schizophrenia ($179,267 – two years)
Dr Valerie Anderson, Psychopharmacology and Neurodynamics

 
 
Preterm stem cell therapy (Doctoral Scholarship $122,000 – three years)
Miss Lotte van den Heuij, Fetal Physiology

Visual brain plasticity in adult humans (Doctoral Scholarship $122,000 – three years)
Mr Victor Borges, Visual Neuroscience Group

Freemasons fund new drug discovery programme

A world-leading drug discovery programme is being developed at the Centre for Brain Research, thanks to a donation from the Freemasons of New Zealand.

 The generous gift of $248,000 will enable the development of new drugs for neurodegenerative disorders. The funding brings together an expert scientific team, including medicinal chemists led by Professor Margaret Brimble from the School of Chemical Sciences and neuropharmacologists working in the CBR Biobank.

 New drug compounds will be developed by synthetic chemist DrAmanda Heapy, who has been awarded the Freemasons fellowship for this work. The team has a unique library of 2000 bioactive natural products. These novel compounds will be tested directly on human tissues in the Biobank, to speed up the drug development process.

 Dr Heapy says: “Collaboration is key. With medicinal chemistry we need constant feedback from biologists about what direction to go and we hope to provide a more tailored service to the pharmacologists which will fast track the search for novel compounds. The Centre for Brain Research has the Biobank, facilities and all the procedures set up for us to do this, whilst the chemists have the compound library. Thus, working closely is a huge competitive advantage — having discussions in person and bouncing ideas off one another.

 David Mace is the Chairman of the Freemasons Roskill Foundation, and says: “The Freemasons are delighted to announce the funding of this fellowship to continue the valuable work by New Zealand researchers at the forefront of global investigation.”

A Memorandum of Understanding was also signed by Vice Chancellor Professor Stuart McCutcheon and the Grand Master of the Freemasons on 25th November, to celebrate the ongoing collaboration and support between the Freemasons and University research.