The following grants were approved prior to July 2016
Structure-function studies of ceroid-lipofuscinosis neuronal protein 5 (CLN5)
How do mutations of a gene affect protein function in the brain and cause Batten disease?
Batten disease is a group of severe childhood neurodegenerative conditions for which there is no known cure. The disease is caused by genetic mutations in one of several different ‘CLN’ genes, including CLN5. However, little is known about the normal function of the protein that is programmed by the CLN5 gene. Dr Mace’s study aims to solve the three-dimensional structure of the CLN5 protein, so as to understand how mutations in the CLN5 gene perturb protein function and cause Batten disease. This may also provide a template for future therapies that directly target the CLN5 protein.
Health and Bread Intervention Trial (HABIT): Cognitive Benefits
Does altering the composition of bread improve brain health and reduce the risk of stroke?
Given the prevalence of stroke in New Zealand, stroke prevention is of the utmost importance. Relatively simple dietary changes have the potential to reduce stroke risk while simultaneously improving cognitive functioning, and thus quality of life in people otherwise at higher risk of stroke. Dr Machado’s study will assess the potential cognitive benefits of altering the composition of bread (low salt, beetroot, or hazelnut) consumed by people with at least one marker of metabolic syndrome (for example, having high blood pressure). The findings have the potential to reveal a simple means to improve cognitive health while simultaneously reducing risk of stroke.
Assessing RRMS patient sera for soluble blood brain barrier disrupting factors
Does a subset of multiple sclerosis patients have a dysfunction to the barrier protecting the brain?
Relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS) is a chronic neurological condition where the immune system attacks structures in the brain. The disruption to the blood vessels in the brain in the regions where the lesions form is a key feature of multiple sclerosis pathology. Dr Graham’s research aims to investigate whether RRMS patients have soluble factors circulating in their blood that can directly cause disruption to the special vascular structure known as the blood brain barrier (BBB). The BBB protects the brain from foreign substances in the blood that may injure the brain. Identification of these factors will provide an understanding of mechanisms involved in blood brain barrier dysfunction and in the future lead to strategies that directly strengthen the compromised vessels.
Characterising the electroencephalogram profiles of Alzheimer’s disease mouse models
Studying brain activity recordings in a mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease to better understand the pathology of the disease
Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a neurodegenerative disease that presents an immense burden for patients, caregivers and society, with the number of affected individuals rising steadily. Current mouse models used to study AD do not present the full range of pathology, perhaps contributing to the lack of a cure or efficient treatment. New research indicates that sleep patterns and electroencephalograms (EEG) of AD patients differ from the normal population and that these recordings help diagnose and predict patient outcomes. Dr Schweitzer will use a novel, wireless system to study EEG changes in a newly created mouse model. The results will provide a better understanding of the pathology in these mice, and will provide a baseline data for future tests of therapeutic approaches in both model systems.
Voluntary tremor suppression in Parkinson’s disease
Why can some Parkinson’s disease patients suppress involuntary tremors? Investigating this phenomenon for the first time
Tremor is the most well-known symptom of Parkinson’s disease but unfortunately is not very responsive to the standard pharmacological treatments. Dr Blakemore’s team has, however, encountered a number of patients who are able to temporarily suppress their tremor simply by effort of will. This ability does not appear to be uncommon and is surprising, especially as it has not yet been described in the literature. Dr Blakemore proposes to investigate this phenomenon systematically for the first time, adding functional brain imaging to a suite of movement and muscle measures to understand how people can suppress involuntary tremors.