Dr Zac Chatterton working in his lab

Brain scientists win big at national awards

12 October 2017

The 2017 Brain Foundation Research Awards took place on Monday 9 October, with Brain and Mind Centre researchers winning more than $300,000 in funding to research dementia, motor neurone disease and immune-mediated neuropathy. 

The National Brain Foundation Research Awards have honoured a number of Brain and Mind Centre researchers for their outstanding brain and mind science research.

Dr James Howells, Associate Professor Muireann Irish, Dr Zac Chatterton (pictured above) and Dr Nidhi Garg received more than $300,000 in funding to improve the lives of people affected by neurodegenerative diseases.

Mark Haberlin (PwC) congratulates Dr James Howells on his Dawn Wallace Fellowship

Guest of Honour Mr Mark Haberlin, Chair of Pricewaterhouse Coopers Governance Board, presented the awards and reiterated his company’s commitment to investing in research that can change the world. Professor Matthew Kiernan, President of the Brain Foundation, was also pleased to acknowledge the ongoing support of PwC with critical brain research initiatives. He was delighted by the funding outcomes, particularly the great representation of researchers from the Brain and Mind Centre at the University of Sydney, commenting, “It was a really tough field, with over 150 applicants from across Australia. The standard of applications was exceptional, the only disappointment being that we could not fund them all.”

Dr James Howells received the coveted two-year Dawn Wallace Fellowship, for his project titled Hyperexcitability of motor neurons in Motor Neurone Disease. The Fellowship will allow Dr Howells to develop a clinical tool that can accurately measure upper motor neuron dysfunction.

“If we can develop a widely-available device for quantifying upper motor neuron dysfunction in Motor Neurone Disease, we will be able to reduce diagnostic delays and enable earlier intervention,” says Dr Howells. “A robust marker of upper motor neuron dysfunction is also essential for clinical trials of new treatments.”

Associate Professor Muireann Irish accepts her research award

Associate Professor Muireann Irish, who received a Research Award for her project, A novel biomarker for younger-onset dementia, is also excited about the research this funding will support.

“It is becoming increasingly difficult to secure external funding for innovative ideas and these awards directly target early- to mid-career researchers, providing them with the crucial seed funding that enables them to pursue ambitious projects,” says Associate Professor Muireann Irish.

Her project hopes to use a new neuroimaging technique to screen for early brain changes in people that have a high genetic risk for developing younger-onset dementia. “Ultimately, this will guide the early and more accurate detection of dementia, enabling us to intervene swiftly and more effectively,” she says. 

Dr Zac Chatterton’s (pictured, top) received a Research Award for his project, A blood based method for diagnosis and monitoring of Frontotemporal Dementia. “Receiving this award will allow us, for the first time, to apply a test to patients suffering from neurodegeneration that is similar to methods that are revolutionising the diagnosis and disease monitoring of cancer. This is extremely exciting.”

Dr Nidhi Garg accepts her research award

Dr Nidhi Garg’s Research Award for Spectrum of immune-related neuropathies will allow her to continue and build on the work of her PhD. “It is a very helpful start for a junior neurologist and researcher, such as myself,” she says.

“There is often a delay in establishing a diagnosis in patients with neuromuscular disorders. Through this research, we hope to be able to identify markers that will allow for earlier diagnosis for patients with inflammatory neuropathies and to identify predictors of treatment response to develop targeted treatment approaches.”

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