The Centenary Institute is an independent leader in medical research seeking improved treatments and cures for cancer, cardiovascular and infectious diseases.
They are working to discover new prevention, early diagnosis and treatment options to enable each generation to live longer, healthier lives than the one before. Centenary’s affiliation with the RPA Hospital and the University of Sydney means that their discoveries can be quickly applied to the fight against disease in the clinic.
$25,000 Centenary Institute Lawrence Creative Prize goes to young Brisbane researcher
Today one of Australia’s most creative young medical researchers has won a $25,000 prize to help him develop his research into how a common, short piece of DNA affects the operation of the brain.
A/Prof Geoff Faulkner of the Mater Research Institute in Brisbane thinks the differences in the way each human brain functions could be determined by a segment of mobile DNA, known as L1, which has the capacity to insert itself into the genome of individual brain cells. His work may have consequences for how memories form, for brain disorders such as schizophrenia, and even spills over into diseases such as haemophilia, muscular dystrophy and some forms of cancer.
The winner of the $25,000 Centenary Institute Lawrence Creative Prize will be announced on Tuesday 11 November during a lunchtime reception at UBS in Sydney.
“It’s a small step towards recognising that the most creative medical research is usually done by researchers early in their career—at a time when it’s hardest for them to secure funding,” says Centenary Executive Director, Professor Mathew Vadas AO.
The three finalists (in alphabetical order) are:
How a piece of mobile DNA could change your mind
A/Prof Geoff Faulkner of the Mater Research Institute in Brisbane thinks the differences in the way each human brain functions could be determined by a segment of mobile DNA known as L1.
L1 has the capacity to insert itself into the genome of individual brain cells. Just how many L1 sequences are inserted and where they occur is unique to each brain cell and may determine how it operates. Showing the impact of this is the subject of Geoff’s Lawrence Creative Prize proposal. If he’s right, it could have significant consequences for our understanding of memory and of brain disorders such as schizophrenia.
Cellular decisions that affect behaviour
Dr Lucy Palmer from the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health in Melbourne wants to know how brain cells in mammals process and integrate the information they receive from the sensory environment and how this information impacts on animal behaviour.
She has been working on the neurons in the rodent brain which receive sensory information from their hind limbs, and has shown that a lot of processing occurs in the dendrites, the long filaments of the cells where information is received. Now she wants to determine how the decisions a cell makes—to pass on information or not—affects what an animal does.
Dr Nicolas Plachta from the Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute and EMBL Australia at Monash University is working on developing better and simpler ways of determining the health of the embryos to be implanted in IVF. And he does so by learning more about the very early stages of embryonic life.
Nico has already developed special microscope technology which allows him to study in single living embryonic cells the movement of individual molecules. This has enabled him to determine how the cells making up the embryo differ from those which form the placenta. And he has also documented shape changes in cells which signal the health of early embryos. He now wants to continue that work looking for other molecular and cellular signs of embryo health, and studying the possibilities for medical intervention.
More on each of the finalists below. Read the full article →
Defences mapped in time and space
Researchers at the Centenary Institute in Sydney have developed the first 3D model of the distribution of immune cells in living mammalian skin.
“It takes us from something like a paper map to Google Street View,” says the study’s lead author Dr Philip Tong.
“We knew all of these cells were there, but not how many of them and where. Now we can dive right in and we see that some types of immune cells are evenly distributed, while others clump in strategic locations.”
The resulting ‘Atlas’, recently posted online by the highly ranked Journal of Investigative Dermatology, provides the basis for understanding an immune response at a particular site of the skin. It helps explain how the same challenge—for example, injecting the same vaccine or drug—to different areas of the skin can generate a different immune response.
Tuesday 17 June 2014
The liver is the only organ in the body that can modify our immune response. This, paradoxically, leaves it open to violent immune attack.
Researchers at Sydney’s Centenary Institute and the University of Sydney have now discovered the means by which this happens. In the process they may have opened a pathway towards improving treatment of chronic hepatitis.
The key is in the way the immune system’s T cells operate in the liver.
The researchers found that when the liver T cells encounter a small number of cells making a foreign protein, they function in the normal way—stimulating the production of cells to kill off the source of the protein.
But when they encounter large amounts of foreign protein beyond a certain threshold, the T cells are overwhelmed and fail. This weakening of the defence system is the Achilles heel of the liver, making it more susceptible to invasion by viruses that replicate rapidly and produce large amounts of protein.
Professor Judith Campisi, the head of research labs at San Francisco’s Buck Institute for Research on Ageing and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, will present this research at the Inflammation in Disease and Ageing conference at Manly, organised by the Centenary Institute.
She has found that senescent cells, which stop cancer in its tracks, also promote the inflammation that drives many age-related problems and chronic diseases.
Josef Penninger plans to change all that. His vision is of a future where we can safely surf and live active lives at 85 years of age without fear of fracture, cancer or any of the other scourges of ageing.
He’s director of Austria’s Institute of Molecular Biotechnology, and is in Australia as a guest of the Centenary Institute in Sydney to share his vision for a healthy old age, and discuss the research that’s getting us there.