Brain Day 2012 lectures announced

Brain Week 2012

Brain Day 2012 will be held on Saturday 17 March

This year the theme for Auckland Brain Day 2012 is ‘brain fitness’. An exciting range of free lectures, discussions and workshops are planned to keep your brain in top condition!

Auckland Brain Day will be held on Saturday 17th March, and will feature neuroscientists and clinicians from the Centre for Brain Research talking about the latest research updates. The event is organised in association with the Neurological Foundation of New Zealand. Held at the Auckland Business School in Grafton, it is the biggest event of its kind in New Zealand!

International neuroscience experts will bring you up to date with the latest information on topical brain issues. Discussions with community experts provide the opportunity to discover practical tips on living with brain disorders. Meanwhile interactive workshops and hands-on demonstrations will open your eyes to the wonders of the brain.

Brain Day offers something for all ages. We aim to provide information on the myriad of brain disorders affecting people throughout the lifespan. Brain health is important too, so come along to find out how to keep your best asset working to its optimum ability!

Information on the free event, venue and facilities, along with the full schedule for the day can be found here.

To get a taster for the day, why not take a look at all the events last year?

Day: Saturday 17th March 2012
Time: 9am – 4pm

Venue: Auckland Business School, 12 Grafton Road, Auckland
Cost: Free
Facilities: $5 parking under the building, easily accessible and cafes on site

Lecture recordings

We have free recordings of the informative lectures given by expert scientists and clinicians in 2011. You can view these lectures on the web.

We will also be recording lectures in 2012, and these will be posted on our website in April.

Promising young brain researcher returns to NZ

Hawkes Bay-born Dr Erin Cawston has been named the 2011 Neurological Foundation Repatriation Fellow. Erin will return from her position as Research Fellow at the Mayo Clinic Arizona next month, in order to further her research into Huntington’s disease at the Centre for Brain Research.

 The Repatriation Fellowship ensures outstanding young researchers who have completed postdoctoral studies overseas can return home and continue to develop their research careers in their specialist area. Dr Cawston says “I am incredibly grateful to the Neurological Foundation for this Repatriation Fellowship allowing me to come home to New Zealand. I look forward to working with Associate Professor Michelle Glass and Professor Mike Dragunow on such an exciting project as well as being back amongst the New Zealand scientific community.” Dr Cawston begins her Fellowship at The University of Auckland in February.

 Alongside this exciting research, the Neurological Foundation has also funded a number of exciting new research projects at the CBR.

 Optimising a novel induced neural precursor-like cell line Associate Professor Bronwen Connor, Department of Pharmacology and Clinical Pharmacology, Centre for Brain Research University of Auckland, $136,862 

 The generation of ‘embryonic-like’ stem cells from adult human skin was first demonstrated in 2007. This project will advance this capability by directly generating immature brain cells (neural precursor cells) from adult human skin. Of major significance is that this will avoid the need to generate an intermediate embryonic-like stem cell phase, providing neural precursor cells for therapeutic applications without risk of tumour formation from stem cells. This project provides a unique opportunity to establish a novel technology which is likely to have wide-reaching applications for future research in the areas of neurological disease modeling, drug development, and potentially cell replacement therapy.

 A genetic mechanism underlying late-onset Alzheimer’s disease Professor Russell Snell, School of Biological Sciences University of Auckland, $86,875

 Alzheimer’s disease is a debilitating disorder affecting up to 50 per cent of those aged over 80 years old. Despite decades of research and innumerable clinical trials, there are no treatments that prevent or reverse the progression of the disease. There is currently some evidence that patients have a small proportion of brain cells with three copies of chromosome 21 instead of the normal two, leading to an increased production of the toxic protein amyloid-beta peptide. This study aims to confirm this observation, determine the pathological consequences of these cells and look for markers that make these cells different, which may lead to new therapies.

 Immodulation of stroke with risperidone Associate Professor Bronwen Connor, Department of Pharmacology and Clinical Pharmacology, Centre for Brain Research, University of Auckland, $11,999

 Stroke is a leading cause of disability in New Zealand and the burden associated with this neurological disorder is increasing. Treatment of stroke represents a large, unmet medical need. Neuroinflammation is an important pathophysiological mechanism involved in stroke and impacts profoundly on the extent of cell loss, as well as injury progression. Neuroinflammation therefore offers an exciting therapeutic target for the treatment of stroke. It has been recently demonstrated that the anti-psychotic drug, risperidone, is effective at reducing neuroinflammation and disease progression in a model of multiple sclerosis. This project will now explore whether the anti-inflammatory properties of risperidone can reduce the progression and severity of stroke. 

 Do BMP antagonists play a role in directing the fate of adult neural progenitor cells following neural cell loss?
Shwetha George, Department of Pharmacology and Clinical Pharmacology, Centre for Brain Research, University of Auckland, $4,000

 The ability for adult neural stem cells to migrate to areas of brain damage and generate replacement brain cells may provide a unique mechanism by which to develop novel therapeutic strategies for the treatment of brain injury or neurological disease. However, the local environment appears to be critical for directing the final fate of adult stem cells in the damaged brain. This study will investigate whether brain injury alters the expression of a group of compounds known as bone morphogenic protein antagonists to promote adult neural stem cells to form glial rather than neuronal cells. The results of this study will enhance our knowledge as to how stem cells respond to brain cell loss and may assist in the development of novel therapeutic strategies for the treatment of brain injury or disease.

Grant funding success for CBR researchers

Scientists at the Centre for Brain Research have been awarded almost $500,000 for four new research projects. The funding comes from the Auckland Medical Research Foundation and the Neurological Foundation of New Zealand.

The studies will examine the underlying biology of brain disorders including autism and neurodegenerative disease. Potential new treatments being developed include stem cell research on induced neural precursor cells, and a clinical trials system called EpiNet.

Dr Bronwen Connor, Dr Christof Maucksch, Dr Mirella Dottori, A/Prof Cris Print,  Dept of Pharmacology, The University of Auckland. Funded by Auckland Medical Research Foundation.

It has long been considered that once a cell reaches maturity it is unable to change to a different cell type. However, recent advances in stem cell biology have shown that mature cells, such as skin cells, can be transformed back to an “embryonic-like” stem cell state where cells exhibit pluripotency (the ability to become any cell type) by the forced expression of specific genes (reprogramming). Advancing this capability, we propose it is possible to convert one cell type to another directly, without the need to first revert the cell to a pluripotent stem cell state. This project aims to establish an innovative approach for generating immature brain cells (neural precursor cells) directly from adult human skin. Of major significance is that this will avoid the need to generate an intermediate embryonic stem cell phase, providing neural precursor cells for research and therapeutic applications without risk of tumour formation from pluripotent stem cell contamination. This project will establish cell reprogramming as a key capability in New Zealand. The ability to directly generate human neural precursor cells offers a powerful system for studying brain development, modeling neurological disease, drug discovery and eventually, cell replacement therapy.

Co-funded by Auckland Medical Research Foundation and the Neurological Foundation
Dr Johanna Montgomery, Prof Craig Garner, Dept of Physiology & Centre for Brain Research, The University of Auckland.

Autism Spectrum Disorders are complex disorders that are diagnosed based on behavioural symptoms including social and cognitive impairments, communication difficulties and repetitive behaviours. Interestingly, many of the genes that have been implicated in Autism encode proteins found at excitatory synapses in the brain. In this research proposal we will form an international collaborative research effort to test the hypothesis that the Autism-associated mutations in these synaptic proteins disrupt the function of synapses. Using electrophysiology recordings as a measure of synapse function, we will compare how proteins that are associated with Autism can alter synapses in the hippocampus, the part of the brain critical for cognitive functions such as learning and memory. We will also begin to determine the mechanisms underlying how these changes occur. These experiments have the potential to determine how the formation, plasticity and maturation of excitatory synapses may be disrupted in Autism, leading to interference with cognitive function and behaviour.

CB2 IN THE BRAIN ($74,457 – 1 YEAR)
Prof Michelle Glass, Dr Scott Graham, Dept of Pharmacology & Clinical Pharmacology, The University of Auckland. Funded by Auckland Medical Research Foundation.

Cannabinoid CB2 receptors have been suggested to be an appealing target for neuroinflammatory disorders as many believe them to be found only on immune cells. However, their distribution is actually highly controversial with some groups reporting wide spread neuronal distribution, while others see little evidence for CB2 in the brain. Part of the reason for these discrepancies are that the antibodies used to detect this protein are not entirely specific. Furthermore, many of the assumptions about CB2 expression in the brain are based on animal studies and may not represent the situation in the human brain. As many drug companies are aiming to bring CB2 directed therapies onto the market it is critical that the localisation of the receptor be accurately determined. This study aims to optimise a sensitive method which will allow for the determination of CB2 gene expression in the normal healthy human brain.


Dr Peter Bergin, Auckland City Hospital, Auckland ($85,464)

Funded by the Neurological Foundation.

In the July 2009 grant round, the Neurological Foundation approved funding for Dr Peter Bergin’s international collaborative pilot study which set up an internet-based platform to recruit patients for epilepsy drug trials. The platform, called EpiNet, is now functioning and is able to be accessed by adult and paediatric neurologists from anywhere in the world. In this second study phase, the EpiNet study group, led by Dr Bergin and involving an international collaboration of epileptologists, will undertake a study to validate both the EpiNet study group and the EpiNet platform before undertaking clinical trials. The group will circulate 50 fictitious case histories to doctors who have expressed interest in participating in the EpiNet project, and ask them to enter details into the EpiNet database, using standard and internationally approved epilepsy classification systems. Investigators’ results will be compared. As well as confirming that investigators ‘speak the same language’ globally, the study will also determine how much variability there is when classifying individual cases using the classification schemes. At the same time, the group will undertake steps to confirm that the database and systems procedures are robust.