Latest Grants

NEUROLOGICAL FOUNDATION RESEARCH APPROVED DECEMBER 2016  

Grants totalling $1,382,529 were approved by the Neurological Foundation Council on 1 December 2016.

Educational travel grants were awarded in addition to the below.  

Neurological Foundation Philip Wrightson Postdoctoral Fellowship

$169,975

Dr Chantelle Fourie Department of Physiology, University of Auckland December 2016

Interneuron networks underlying hippocampal plasticity and spatial learning and memory retrieval

The role of the brain's synaptic networks in controlling plasticity and memory

Understanding how the brain learns and stores memories is one of the major challenges in science. Neuronal activity in the brain’s memory centre, the hippocampus, is shaped by both excitatory and inhibitory synaptic input. A synapse is a space between two neurons that serves as a junction through which nervous impulses pass so cellular communication can occur. Synaptic plasticity - the ability of synapses to strengthen/weaken their synaptic input - is thought to underlie learning and memory. Dr Fourie’s research will uncover the role of hippocampal inhibitory synaptic networks in controlling synaptic plasticity and memory. Together these experiments will provide new insights into the brain networks underlying memory and will uncover novel targets for intervention to improve learning and memory, especially in neurological disease.

Dr Fourie will undertake her Neurological Foundation Philip Wrightson Postdoctoral Fellowship at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore under the supervision of Professor George Augustine.

Using optogenetics* to investigate inhibitory networks is one of the areas of expertise of Professor Augustine, who is well-known for his studies of synaptic mechanisms in the brain. This fellowship will enable Dr Fourie to expand her expertise in inhibitory networks and investigate their role in long-term plasticity and learning behaviour, by mastering and applying the latest in vitro and in vivo optogenetic techniques.

Dr Fourie’s long-term career goal is to return to New Zealand and establish her own research group to better understand the brain networks underlying learning and memory and how they can ultimately be manipulated to improve learning and memory in neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and Autism Spectrum Disorders.

*Optogenetics is a cutting-edge technology that combines molecular biology with light stimulation to allow researchers to have precise control over the behaviour of a cell or populations of cells.

 

Neurological Foundation Philip Wrightson Postdoctoral Fellowship

$159,779

Susan Tyree Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science, Stanford University, USA December 2016

Investigation of neural circuits mediating negative outcomes of sleep dysregulation

Investigating the role of a hormone in sleep dysregulation

Sleeping, eating, and stress are all essential for humans to survive. These functions rely on each other, but exactly how they interact is poorly understood. Sleep deprivation is associated with disrupted eating behaviours, increased stress, and increased body mass index. The hormone hypocretin has emerged as a potential key to the interlinked function of these systems. Advanced techniques now allow researchers to view neuronal circuits directly while also controlling their activity. Miss Tyree will study hypocretin neurons and their targets involved with sleep, stress, and eating behaviours in a mouse model, to confirm or deny a role for hypocretin in mediating negative consequences of sleep dysregulation.

Miss Tyree will undertake her Neurological Foundation Philip Wrightson Postdoctoral Fellowship in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University School of Medicine in the United States. Her supervisor, Professor Luis de Lecea, is a global leader in the field of sleep research and his laboratory has pioneered several important discoveries in this field.

Following the completion of her Masters degree at the University of Otago, Miss Tyree was awarded a postgraduate bursary at the German Institute of Human Nutrition where she has studied for the past three years. Miss Tyree’s Stanford research will deepen and broaden her technical skill base and add cutting-edge techniques to her skill repertoire. After the completion of her Neurological Foundation Philip Wrightson Postdoctoral Fellowship, she hopes to return to New Zealand to build her own research lab where she can use her newly developed skills and international connections to further her work.

Neurological Foundation Philip Wrightson Postdoctoral Fellowship

$180,629

Dr Rashi Karunasinghe Department of Physiology, University of Auckland December 2016

Filling in the gaps in the brain: the developmental roles of extracellular hyaluronan in neuronal signalling and plasticity

The role of a molecular sugar in brain development 

The brain is a complex organ with a remarkable ability to remodel its circuitry. This unique feature, termed ‘plasticity,’ dynamically modifies the signalling between brain cells. For example, brain plasticity is important during learning and encoding memories. On the other hand, a stabilisation of circuits is responsible for the consolidation of existing memories. The mechanisms involved in regulating brain plasticity (versus stability) are not well understood. Dr Karunasinghe’s preliminary research findings indicate intriguing roles for an extracellular matrix sugar called hyaluronan. This project will follow how neurons regulate hyaluronan levels in order to modify their molecular, structural, and electrophysiological properties during brain development.  

Neurological Foundation Gillespie Postgraduate Scholarship

$104,499

Akshata Anchan Department of Pharmacology and Clinical Pharmacology, University of Auckland December 2016

Migration of metastatic melanoma cells across the blood brain barrier and manipulation of brain microenvironment via checkpoint blockade

How do melanoma cancer cells migrate into the brain and survive by avoiding our defensive immune system?

The brain is a preferential metastatic site for several types of cancer including melanoma. Melanoma is one of the most aggressive forms of cancer, and New Zealand has one of the highest incidence rates in the world. While melanoma is more common in people over 50 years of age, it is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in 15 - 29 year olds. People with metastasised melanoma (where the cancer has spread from the original tumour site) have limited survival, especially when the destructive melanoma cells metastasise to the brain. Because the brain is an extensively defended organ, it is of great interest to researchers how cancer cells manage to invade the protective blood-brain barrier. The specificities of how this happens are not well studied in human cells. Ms Anchan’s research aims to investigate human melanoma cells to discover the key components that allow them to 1: migrate into the brain and 2: survive within the brain by avoiding our defensive immune system. Ms Anchan hopes to follow this study by researching ways to block these processes.  

Neurological Foundation W & B Miller Postgraduate Scholarship

$104,499

Nicole Edwards Department of Pharmacology and Clinical Pharmacology, University of Auckland December 2016

Modelling the neurodevelopmental disorder Fragile X Syndrome by Direct Reprogramming 

Developing an authentic research model of Fragile X Syndrome using an innovative New Zealand-developed technology

Fragile X Syndrome (FXS) is the most common genetic cause of intellectual disability and autism, and has been linked to impaired neuronal development and function. To overcome the lack of access to live developing human neurons, Ms Edwards’ supervisor, Associate Professor Bronwen Connor, has developed a strategy to generate immature brain cells directly from adult human skin through a technique called direct reprogramming. Ms Edwards’ postgraduate work will use this technique to generate immature brain cells directly from FXS patients to investigate changes in the expression of genes and proteins important for neuronal development and function. This project will establish a human model of FXS and progress the understanding of this disorder.

 

Ms Edwards’ study will build on the large body of cell-reprogramming research work that Associate Professor Bronwen Connor’s laboratory is internationally well-regarded for.

 

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