Putting people with dementia on treadmills; Fresh Science; Australia-Japan collaboration

Bulletins, Media bulletins

Today: On embargo until 5pm (Canberra time)

National honour for Brisbane pioneer who found brain stem cells and is now waking them up with exercise.

  • Professor Perry Bartlett is putting people with dementia on treadmills
  • Over 20 years ago he broke the dogma that the adult brain can’t change and regenerate
  • He built the Queensland Brain Institute to expand our knowledge of what the brain can do
  • He’s shown that exercise reverses dementia and recovers spatial memory in mice
  • Now he’s starting a trial to put people with dementia on treadmills, in the hope that their neurons will regrow
  • Perry, the founding director of the Queensland Brain Institute, will receive the $50,000 2015 CSL Florey Medal tonight for his discoveries that have transformed our understanding of the brain, and for his leadership of neuroscience in Australia.

The award will be presented by Health Minister the Hon. Sussan Ley at 9 pm (Canberra time) tonight in the Great Hall, Parliament House in Canberra.

More below and full profile, photos, and HD footage available at: www.scienceinpublic.com.au/floreymedal

For interviews, contact my colleague Toni Stevens on 0401 763 130 – because Sarah and I are off to Japan.

On the weekend:

Finding new drugs for malaria, reducing the impact of earthquakes, sharing light and neutrons, and more

We’re attending Science Agora, a national Japanese science fair, where we’ll be teaching Japanese researchers how to get their stories in the Western media.

If you know any Western journalists in Tokyo that would like to join a panel discussion on Sunday morning please let me know.

And we’ll be sharing stories of how Australia-Japan links are:

And over the next few weeks:

We’ll be bringing you stories from our Fresh Scientists in Western Australia and Victoria.

We kick off today with a story from Adelaide – New therapy calms inflammation in ‘butterfly’ skin. More below.

Kind regards,


The ageing brain can repair itself

Embargoed to 5 pm (Canberra time) Wednesday 11 November 2015

Full profile, photos, and HD footage available at: www.scienceinpublic.com.au/floreymedal

National honour for pioneer who found brain stem cells and is now waking them up with exercise

Perry Bartlett is putting people with dementia on treadmills. He has already reversed dementia and recovered spatial memories in mice through exercise. During the next year he’ll find out if exercise will have the same impact in people with dementia. Then he’ll look at depression.

Underpinning these projects is the idea that the brain is constantly changing and that learning, memory, mood, and many other brain functions are, in part, regulated by the production of new neurons. When Perry started exploring the brain in 1977 the mature brain was regarded as static and unchangeable. He challenged this dogma and his work has led to a transformation in our understanding of the brain.

In 1982 Perry predicted that there were stem cells in the brain. In 1992 he found them in mouse embryos then in adult mice then, a decade later, he isolated them from the forebrain. His next big project was building up the Queensland Brain Institute from ten people to 500 in a little more than a decade. The Institute has unleashed a new generation of neuroscientists whose discoveries range from using ultrasound to treat Alzheimer’s disease, to finding stem cells associated with mood, spatial learning and more.

Now Perry is about to start clinical trials to determine if exercise really can reverse dementia in humans. Dementia affects more than 300,000 Australians and many more cases are expected as our population ages. It’s a devastating condition and the direct cost to the community is more than $5 billion a year. The impact on families is beyond measure.

The CSL Florey Medal has been presented every two years since 1998 by the Australian Institute of Policy and Science (AIPS). The award recognises significant achievements in biomedical science and human health advancement. It carries a cash prize of $50,000 and has been supported by CSL since 2007.

“Thanks to Professor Bartlett we now know the adult brain can repair itself. His work offers the potential to transform treatment and management of dementia and depression,” says CSL’s Chief Scientist, Dr Andrew Cuthbertson. “CSL is proud to support this award which both recognises excellence in research, and creates role models for the next generation.”

“In winning the CSL Florey Medal, Professor Bartlett joins an elite bunch of Australian medical researchers who have followed in the footsteps of Howard Florey,” says AIPS director Camille Thomson. “To quote Sir Robert Menzies, ‘In terms of world well-being, Florey was the most important man ever born in Australia’.”

Professor Perry Bartlett is the Foundation Professor of Neuroscience at the University of Queensland and was the founding Director of the Queensland Brain Institute.

Media contact:

New therapy calms inflammation in ‘butterfly’ skin

Written by our colleague Sarah Keenihan for The Lead

Children with the rare genetic disease Epidermolysis Bullosa face a lifetime of pain due to constant blistering of their skin and other body surfaces.

The University of South Australia’s Zlatko Kopecki has developed a product to help these kids, and which could potentially treat all people with inflammatory skin conditions.

“We have identified a harmful protein that impairs skin healing in these so-called ‘butterfly children’, and created a new product to address this,” explained Dr Kopecki.

“More broadly, the therapy we have developed may improve recovery from all kinds of wounds.”

Epidermolysis Bullosa occurs due to failure in scaffold-like structures that link skin cells to each other. With the normal protective barrier to the outside world now leaky, the child’s immune system is forced onto on a never-ending circuit of high alert and repair.

“If the children manage to survive the numerous infections they endure in early childhood, they die from skin cancers induced by this constant cycle,” said Dr Kopecki.

The new Epidermolysis Bullosa therapy dampens harmful inflammation in the skin by blocking the activity of a protein known as Flightless.

“When extracellular Flightless protein is mopped up by specific neutralising antibodies we have developed, it results in improved healing of blistered skin and improved cellar migration,” Dr Kopecki said.

The effectiveness of the antibody in reducing skin inflammation in mice is described in a recent paper published by Dr Kopecki with colleagues at the Women’s and Childrens’ Health Research Institute, University of South Australia and University of Adelaide.

The researchers are now focused on transitioning this finding to create a therapy that works in humans.

“We hope to run our first clinical trials in 2016 and aim to develop a marketable product within 5 years,” said Dr Kopecki.

The therapy would be a welcome relief for the 500,000 people worldwide who suffer from Epidermolysis Bullosa.

It may also open up new opportunities to treat impaired skin healing due to diabetes, aging, burns and skin blistering, which together cost the Australian federal government in excess of AU$2.6 billion per year.

Zlatko Kopecki presented his research at Fresh Science South Australia 2015.

Fresh Science is a national program that helps early-career researchers find and share their stories of discovery.

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