The ageing brain can repair itself

CSL Florey Medal

2015 CSL Florey header_lo res

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

Media release

Full profile, photos, and HD footage available at:

The award was presented by Health Minister the Hon. Sussan Ley on Wednesday 11 November in the Great Hall, Parliament House, Canberra

  • Professor Perry Bartlett 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
  • Now he’s starting a trial to put people with dementia on treadmills, in the hope that their neurons will regrow
  • Perry  will receive the 2015 CSL Florey Medal at the Association of Australian Medical Research Institutes (AAMRI) Dinner in Parliament House for his discoveries that have transformed our understanding of the brain, and for his leadership of neuroscience in Australia.

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.

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