Current Research

The Neurological Foundation continues to strive to make a difference to those with neurological conditions by raising money to fund research into the very best neurological research here in New Zealand. Only through research will our mission statement be achieved.

Mission Statement - “To alleviate suffering from diseases and disorders of the brain and nervous system through research and education”

Here you will find examples of the incredible research currently being carried out as a result of funding from the Neurological Foundation. The advances in neuroscience from these studies has been made possible by the generous support of New Zealanders.

 

NEW RESEARCH GRANTS

AUCKLAND

Associate Professor Welma Stonehouse

Institute of Food, Nutrition and Human Health, Massey University, Albany, Auckland

$15,556

Can genotype affect the brain’s response to omega-3 supplementation?

There may be more behind the metaphor ‘food for thought’ than just creative thinking. The human brain is the most lipid-rich organ in the body, only surpassed by the body’s fat stores. Omega-3 fats, found in fatty fish, are one of the predominant lipids in the brain and play a vital role in brain structure and functioning. Our genetic makeup may also influence the processing of fats by the brain and the brain’s response to fat, which may affect brain function. This study will investigate the interaction between our genes and an omega-3 fatty acid supplement (fish oil) on brain performance.

Associate Professor Bronwen Connor

Department of Pharmacology and Clinical Pharmacology, Centre for Brain Research, University of Auckland

$136,862 

Optimising a novel induced neural precursor-like cell line

The generation of ‘embryonic-like’ stem cells from adult human skin was first demonstrated in 2007. This project will advance this capability by directly generating immature brain cells (neural precursor cells) from adult human skin. Of major significance is that this will avoid the need to generate an intermediate embryonic-like stem cell phase, providing neural precursor cells for therapeutic applications without risk of tumour formation from stem cells. This project provides a unique opportunity to establish a novel technology which is likely to have wide-reaching applications for future research in the areas of neurological disease modeling, drug development, and potentially cell replacement therapy.

Professor Russell Snell

School of Biological Sciences and Centre for Brain Research, University of Auckland

$86,875

A genetic mechanism underlying late-onset Alzheimer’s disease

Alzheimer’s disease is a debilitating disorder affecting up to 50 per cent of those aged over 80 years old. Despite decades of research and innumerable clinical trials, there are no treatments that prevent or reverse the progression of the disease. There is currently some evidence that patients have a small proportion of brain cells with three copies of chromosome 21 instead of the normal two, leading to an increased production of the toxic protein amyloid-beta peptide. This study aims to confirm this observation, determine the pathological consequences of these cells and look for markers that make these cells different, which may lead to new therapies.

Associate Professor Bronwen Connor

Department of Pharmacology and Clinical Pharmacology, Centre for Brain Research, University of Auckland

$11,999

Immodulation of stroke with risperidone

Stroke is a leading cause of disability in New Zealand and the burden associated with this neurological disorder is increasing. Treatment of stroke represents a large, unmet medical need. Neuroinflammation is an important pathophysiological mechanism involved in stroke and impacts profoundly on the extent of cell loss, as well as injury progression. Neuroinflammation therefore offers an exciting therapeutic target for the treatment of stroke. It has been recently demonstrated that the anti-psychotic drug, risperidone, is effective at reducing neuroinflammation and disease progression in a model of multiple sclerosis. This project will now explore whether the anti-inflammatory properties of risperidone can reduce the progression and severity of stroke.

This project was funded by Neurological Foundation members Mr E W and Mrs B D Wright, Christchurch.  

Neurological Foundation Repatriation Fellowship

Dr Erin Cawston

Department of Pharmacology and Clinical Pharmacology, Centre for Brain Research, University of Auckland

$89,500

A two-pronged approach to improving the development of novel therapies for Huntington’s disease.

Huntington's disease (HD) is an inherited neurological disorder that causes cells in specific areas of the brain to die. This HD degeneration causes uncontrolled movements, loss of intellectual faculties and emotional disturbance in patients. About one in every 10,000 people has HD, which is a familial disease, and passed from parent to child through a mutation in the normal gene, and each child of a parent with HD has a 50-50 chance of inheriting the HD gene. A person who inherits the HD gene will one day develop the disease. There is currently no effective treatment or cure. This project will take two approaches to improving the development of novel therapies for HD. Firstly, to examine the signaling pathways of the CBI receptors in HD cell lines to optimise their neuroprotective effects on cells. Secondly, to develop an improved human cell model of HD toxicity for further studies into the mechanism of toxicity and potential drug screening.

Student Summership:

Shwetha George

Department of Pharmacology and Clinical Pharmacology, Centre for Brain Research, University of Auckland

$4,000

Do BMP antagonists play a role in directing the fate of adult neural progenitor cells following neural cell loss?

The ability for adult neural stem cells to migrate to areas of brain damage and generate replacement brain cells may provide a unique mechanism by which to develop novel therapeutic strategies for the treatment of brain injury or neurological disease. However, the local environment appears to be critical for directing the final fate of adult stem cells in the damaged brain. This study will investigate whether brain injury alters the expression of a group of compounds known as bone morphogenic protein antagonists to promote adult neural stem cells to form glial rather than neuronal cells. The results of this study will enhance our knowledge as to how stem cells respond to brain cell loss and may assist in the development of novel therapeutic strategies for the treatment of brain injury or disease.

 

WELLINGTON

Associate Professor Anne La Flamme

School of Biological Sciences, Victoria University of Wellington

$158,007

Optimising the use of anti-psychotic agents for multiple sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis (MS), which affects one in every 1400 New Zealanders, is a disease characterised by immune-mediated nerve degeneration. Symptoms may include difficulty moving; difficulties with coordination and balance; problems in speech (dysarthria) or swallowing (dysphagia), and visual problems. Immune cells are responsible for the damage to the nerves and subsequent clinical features of MS. There is no cure, and while disease-modifying drugs are available, they are often effective in only a subpopulation of MS patients. Recently Professor La Flamme’s laboratory has found that a commonly used anti-psychotic drug is effective at modifying MS in a mouse model of the disease. This project investigates the potential of this drug to treat MS. 

Hannah Bos

School of Psychology, Massey University, Wellington

$10,988

Randomised controlled trial of memory aids after traumatic brain injury

After brain injury, people frequently have difficulty remembering to perform planned actions at the appropriate time. This creates difficulties in daily life – forgetting to attend appointments and complete tasks, with the person often becoming dependent. This research will compare the effectiveness of two forms of memory aids in a randomised controlled trial: paper-based memory notebooks that have traditionally been used will be compared to providing reminders using smartphones. Despite much interest in using smartphones, to date little systematic research has been done in this area. This study will guide clinicians in providing the best available rehabilitation after brain injury.

Student Summership:

Leigh Walker

School of Biological Sciences, Victoria University of Wellington

$4,000

Cellular effects of novel anti-addiction compounds

Addiction to drugs of abuse is a disease which has major social, health, crime and monetary costs to society. While some therapeutic drugs are available to help stop smoking, such as nicotine patches, there are no therapeutic drugs available to help stop drug addicts who crave psychostimulants such as methamphetamine (P), cocaine or amphetamine. This study will investigate the cellular action of compounds that possess pre-clinical anti-addiction effects. This study aims to develop better, more effective anti-addiction compounds.

 

CANTERBURY

Neurological Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship

Dr Stephanie Borrie

Department of Communication Disorders, University of Canterbury

Fellowship will be undertaken at the Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences, Arizona State University and Mayo Clinic Arizona.

$122,000

Perceptual training for the management of neurological speech disorders

 

OTAGO

Professor Brian Hyland

Department of Physiology, University of Otago

$168,219  

Effect of ghrelin on activity of neurons in the brain reward system and on their response to predicting cues in normal and Parkinson’s disease models. 

People with Parkinson’s disease can suffer weight loss that is treatment-resistant, and which may relate to changes in the activity of brain systems concerned with the rewarding aspects of food. Ghrelin, originally identified in the stomach, has effects in the brain which modify appetite and has been proposed as a possible therapy for weight loss. However, little is known about how ghrelin interacts with the brain’s food-reward system. This research will for the first time investigate the effect of ghrelin on the responses of brain cells to food-related stimuli in the normal brain and in a model of Parkinson’s disease.

Dr Jonathan Shemmell

School of Physical Education and Department of Anatomy, University of Otago

$175,405

Optimising brain stimulation to promote motor learning

Although magnetic brain stimulation is a promising tool for enhancing rehabilitation of stroke survivors, we do not know enough about how this type of stimulation interacts with normal brain processes. This project will determine the effect of magnetic brain stimulation on individual synapses in the brain cortex and subsequently identify the nature of interactions between magnetic brain stimuli and motor learning in humans. This work will help us to understand how brain stimulation might be best applied to assist the learning of new skills and the recovery of movement following damage to the brain caused by stroke.

Neurological Foundation Postgraduate Fellowships

Brigid Ryan

Department of Anatomy, University of Otago

$102,600

MicroRNA regulated in dentate gyrus granule cells following LTP induction in vivo 

 

Nicole Neverman

Department of Biochemistry, University of Otago

$102,600

Lysosomal function in childhood neurodegenerative disease

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CURRENT PROJECTS

Projects funded by the Neurological Foundation can run over a period of one to three years, and sometimes longer. Currently there are 51 projects funded by the Foundation throughout the country. Following are some of the projects funded in 2011 that are still current. For a full list of all of the latest and previous projects funded by the Neurological Foundation, please visit www.neurological.org.nz

AUCKLAND

Professor Alan Barber, Neurological Foundation Chair of Clinical Neurology

Department of Medicine, Auckland City Hospital, and Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, University of Auckland

  Auckland Transient Ischemic Attack Study

 

Dr Ji-Zhong Bai

Department of Physiology, University of Auckland

Role of TRPV4 channels in astrocyte calcium signalling and neurotoxicity induced by amyloid β peptide

Professor Barber’s and Dr Bai’s grants were provided through the Douglas Charitable Trust and are administered by the Neurological Foundation.

 

Dr Benjamin Thompson, Professor Helen Danesh-Meyer, 

Department of Optometry and Department of Ophthalmology, University of Auckland

Evaluating alterations in striate and extrastriate visual brain areas using structural and functional magnetic resonance imaging in patients with visual loss

 

Dr Shamim Shaikh

Department of Anatomy and the Centre for Brain Research, University of Auckland

Endocytosis of Advanced Glycation End products (AGEs) by neurons: new insights into neurodegeneration

 

WELLINGTON

Professor Anne La Flamme

School of Biological Sciences, Victoria University of Wellington

Regulating macrophage and microglian effector functions during neuroinflammation

 

CANTERBURY

Dr Toni Pitcher,

University of Otago, Christchurch

Magnetic resonance imaging of anxiety in Parkinson’s disease

 

Neurological Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship

Dr Phoebe Macrae

Department of Communication Disorders, University of Canterbury

Fellowship is being undertaken at the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, John Hopkins University.

The effects of repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation on swallowing neurophysiology

 

OTAGO

Dr Kathie Overeem

Department of Anatomy, University of Otago

An examination of microRNA expression abnormalities as a result of maternal immune activation: a search for epigenetic abnormalities associated with increased risk for schizophrenia development

 

Professor Robert Gardner

Dunedin School of Medicine, University of Otago

The genetic basis of Spinocerebellar Ataxia type 30 (SCA30)