Neurological Foundation December 2012 Grant Round Recipients
Research grants totalling $976,947 have been approved by the Neurological Foundation Council in the December 2012 grant round.
$129,402Dr Bronwyn Kivell School of Biological Sciences, Victoria University of Wellington 2012 - December
Drug dependency is a brain disease resulting in devastating consequences for patients, their families and society. Many drug-dependent people develop neurological disorders which impose an increasingly heavy burden on neurological services in New Zealand. Current estimates are that 24 per cent of New Zealanders aged 15 – 34 years use amphetamines and other drugs of abuse. A Ministry of Health report (2010) and National Survey data (2006) point to an epidemic of drug abuse, with New Zealanders being amongst the world’s highest consumers of amphetamine-type stimulants.
Although there are some therapeutic drugs, none are available to treat addiction to psychostimulants such as methamphetamine, cocaine, or amphetamine. Previous research has shown that drugs activating a protein in the brain called the kappa opioid receptor reduce drug use. Unfortunately, side-effects prevent its therapeutic use. The aim of this project is to measure the anti-addiction effects of a structurally new class of compound known to activate this protein. New compounds with anti-addiction properties will be identified in this study. If these compounds show efficacy with reduced side-effects, successful anti-dependency therapeutics can be developed.
$158,695Associate Professor Simon Malpas Auckland Bioengineering Institute and Department of Physiology, University of Auckland 2012 - December
Hydrocephalus is a relatively common clinical condition associated with increased pressure on the brain due to excess fluid and/or a failure to drain this fluid. It is fatal unless a drainage catheter or shunt is inserted. While lifesaving, this shunt blocks in approximately 50 per cent of cases and requires surgical revision of one of its components. The major clinical issue is in the need to diagnose whether the shunt is failing or if the patient simply has an unrelated headache. For people with hydrocephalus a simple headache often means an urgent trip to the hospital for a scan. Now a team of engineers and neurosurgeons at the University of Auckland hopes to remove that stress by developing a tiny implant which will sense and transmit, through a wireless communicator, the level of pressure inside a person’s brain. This device will enable early and correct diagnosis, consequently reducing patient anxiety and improving the medical management of hydrocephalus patients.
$102,039Rebecca Pearman Department of Pharmacology, University of Auckland 2012 - December
Human cell modelling of Parkisnon's disease by direct reprogramming
Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a movement disorder caused by the progressive loss of a specific neural pathway, resulting in reduced levels of a neurotransmitter called dopamine in the brain. While the motor symptoms of PD can be treated in some patients with a drug that replaces the lost dopamine, there is no treatment to slow or halt the progression of neuronal loss. This is largely because scientists do not fully understand the cellular changes in PD that cause neuronal death. Ms Pearman’s research aims to develop a cell model of PD which can be used to understand these processes by reprogramming skin cells from patients with PD into immature neurons and then to mature dopamine cells. This model will allow for future studies to investigate the underlying pathological processes that lead to the development of PD and to screen for disease-modifying drugs.
$84,000Laura Boddington Department of Anatomy, University of Otago 2012 - December
Modulating interhemispheric inhibition to improve functional recovery after stroke
Stroke affects approximately 20 New Zealanders each day and is the leading cause of adult disability in the developed world. A key objective of post-stroke rehabilitation is the recovery of movement. Recent Neurological Foundation-funded research using Theta Burst Stimulation (low voltage electrical stimulation) has shown promise as a therapy for stroke and suggests that stimulating the brain with its own natural ‘theta’ rhythms can enhance rehabilitation and recovery after a stroke. Ms Boddington’s research will assess the effects of theta-like stimulation on single brain cells in the control of movement areas of the brain after stroke. It will also determine the most effective timing for the application of stimulation after stroke onset to maximise functional improvement.
$159,210Dr Charlotte Thynne Department of Physiology, University of Auckland 2012 - December
The synaptic basis of autism
Autism is a developmental disorder characterised by deficits in language, social interaction and communication. The cause of autism is unknown and no effective treatments have been developed. Dr Thynne’s research aims to determine if autism may result from changes in the interactions between proteins at synapses in the brain, which alters how these synapses function. (Synapses are connections between neurons through which information flows from one neuron to another). In collaboration with scientists at Stanford University, California, Dr Thynne will record from brain cells expressing proteins that are known to be altered in autism, and determine how synapses are altered. Together the data may provide an insight into the underlying process involved in the cognitive symptoms associated with Autism Spectrum Disorders.