The seven Brain and Mind Centre NHMRC Investigator Grant recipients have been recognised for research that cuts across disciplines and industry sectors to target disorders of the brain and mind. The recipients were among 43 grants awarded to researchers across the University of Sydney and part of an outstanding success rate of researchers from the university’s multidisciplinary initiatives.
The NHMRC Investigator Grants aim to foster flexibility for investigators to pursue important new research directions, and the ability to form collaborations for innovative and creative research. Now in its fifth year as a multidisciplinary initiative, the Brain and Mind Centre is thrilled to see so many of our researchers awarded with such competitive grants.
In congratulating the Investigator Grant recipients, Brain and Mind Centre co-directors Professor Ian Hickie and Professor Matthew Kiernan said the success in this round was testament to the quality of their research, as well as to the cross cutting research programs they have developed and the opportunities they have fostered for their research teams.
“We are proud of our researchers’ contributions to basic science, clinical care, imaging development and health service delivery. Their work reflects the spirit of multidisciplinary investigation. These grants will allow researchers and their programs to continue adding to the depth and breadth of enquiry in their respective fields.”
The seven Brain and Mind Centre recipients include early career researchers and internationally recognised leaders in their fields, and their work represents biomedical, clinical, public health and health services delivery.
Mac Shine was awarded an Emerging Leadership grant for his investigations into the patterns of brain activity that reflect communication between its regions. This grant allows Dr Shine to continue his search for deeper understanding of how cognitive function works in a healthy brain, in order to see where it begins to fail in dementia syndromes.
Dr Shine has a clinical background, and now works primarily in neuroimaging technologies together with our Forefront research team. He also works with an information software engineer, and two statistical physicists, and says this Investigator grant will allow him to support that collaboration with researchers who bring unique perspectives and skills to the project.
“They are an important piece of the puzzle,” Dr Shine said.
“They work with big complex systems, like weather systems, and summarise them to identify patterns. We can take this work and apply it to the complex system of the brain. Using summary statistics over time we can describe the whole network and notice patterns that occur as things start to go wrong.
“A lot of pathology in Parkinson’s disease and dementia start in the arousal centres, the stem system. We had noticed that subtle changes were affecting how the whole network functions together. This grant will help us to go further with this investigation, which ultimately will assist with diagnosis and interventions.”
Simon Lewis was awarded a Leadeship Grant, which will allow a team of researchers to investigate therapies for Parkinson’s Disease and Lewy Body Dementia.
Professor Lewis said that Parkinson's Disease and Lewy Body Dementia represent a major socio-economic challenge, with the total number of patients affected set to surpass those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. However no disease-modifying treatments are currently available and existing symptomatic therapies offer only partial and non-sustained benefits.
“Our program is seeking ways to diagnose parkinson’s disease at a stage when those affected might benefit most from neuroprotective interventions. We are working towards improving diagnosis and current management strategies.
“This program of research will draw on expertise from many disciplines across the neurosciences, engineering and clinical trials, putting patients and their families at the centre of everything we do to achieve important outcomes for patients.”
Stephanie Wong is a postdoctoral researcher with Frontier, and is a recipient of the Brain and Mind Centre Research Development Grant award scheme for 2020.
Dr Wong’s Investigator grant will support her research into challenging behaviours in dementia: mechanisms, assessment and interventions. Dr Wong said behavioural symptoms often have a dramatic impact on patients and their families.
“When most people think about dementia, the first thing that comes to mind is losing your memory. But not all types of dementia start with memory loss. Some common behavioural symptoms of dementia range from reduced motivation and empathy to overeating, gambling and socially inappropriate or negative behaviour.
“These behaviours are challenging for carers and families to cope with, and often lead to individuals being placed into aged care facilities. My research aims to understand why these symptoms develop and how we can manage their behaviours effectively.
We are proud to work with esteemed researchers through our partnerships with institutions and hospitals, and thrilled to congratulate the 2020 NHMRC Investigators who actively participate in Brain and Mind Centre research teams and shaping our strategic research goals.
Professor Russell Dale is head of Kids Neuroscience Centre at Children’s Hospital, Westmead and part of the leadership group of Brain and Mind Centre’s Child Neurodevelopment and Mental Health Team. Russel was awarded a Leadership 1 Investigator Grant for targeting the immune cells of the brain to develop new treatments for neurodevelopmental and mental health problems in children.
Professor Ron Grunstein is one of three team leaders of the Sleep and Circadian Biology team at the Brain and Mind Centre . He is highly regarded international expert on sleep disorders and has won numerous awards for his contributions to sleep and respiratory disorders. He is currently Professor of Professor of Sleep Medicine and head of the NHMRC Centre for Integrated Research and Understanding of Sleep (CIRUS) and the NHMRC Australasian Sleep Trials Network. He is an NHMRC Senior Principal Research Fellow. Professor Grunstein is a staff specialist physician in Respiratory and Sleep Medicine at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and heads the Sleep and Circadian Research Group, Woolcock Institute of Medical Research.
Professor Natasha Nassar is a leading member of the Brain and Mind Centre Child Neurodevelopment and Mental Health Team. Her 2020 Investigator Grant was awarded for her work on using population health data to inform translational child health, healthcare and health policy.
Professor Maree Teesson is Professor and Director of The Matilda Centre for Research in Mental Health and Substance Use, Director of the NHMRC Centre of Research Excellence in Prevention and Early Intervention in Mental Illness and Substance Use (PREMISE) and NHMRC Principal Research Fellow at The University of Sydney. She seeks to increase our understanding of substance use and mental health problems, prevent these where possible and improve treatment responses. Maree sits on the Brain and Mind Centre Executive Leadership Committee, assisting with the strategic oversight of the Brain and Mind Centre’s research and education activities.