PROFESSOR PETER SCHOFIELD
Learn how to reduce your risk of dementia
JOHN GRILL AO
QUEST FOR DISCOVERY. QUEST FOR CURES
Our quest for discovery continues to motivate us to work towards the solutions and cures of tomorrow – today. This year we have welcomed Professor Kaarin Anstey who, with her team, is working on understanding the risk factors for dementia prevention and developing lifestyle guidelines on how to reduce the risk of dementia.
Currently there are over 1,500 new cases of dementia diagnosed each week. It is predicted that by 2050 there will be almost one million Australians with the condition, and many more family members and friends indirectly impacted by its effects. This is a huge problem that is growing and needs more investment. Our goal at NeuRA is to focus on the whole community to enable both a research-led, and technology delivered set of outcomes that will greatly benefit the community, the family and the individual.
At NeuRA, we are playing a critical role in a global bipolar genome sequencing project aimed at understanding the biological basis of the bipolar disorder using state-of-the-art DNA sequencing. Dr Jan Fullerton and her team aim to unlock the early indicators of this disease so we can identify specific risk factors in young people who are at increased genetic risk of this disorder.
There is a lot we don’t know about brain function which can be revealed through identifying gene pathways. Neurocognitive disorders are one of the largest unmet challenges in Australian healthcare. Approximately 3,000 children are born each year with a moderate to severe neurocognitive disorder.
These types of disorders have high management costs and frequently recur within families. By developing genomic testing across a range of neurocognitive disorders, we can provide answers to multiple people. This isn’t just providing a diagnosis to a particular family member; It is empowering families through genomic testing to know if there is a chance recurrence and hope for future treatments.
Our quest for discovery is equally matched by our quest to find cures for some of the most debilitating cognitive diseases of the brain. Importantly, early detection of diseases such as Parkinson’s disease can improve outcomes for all people and their families in the future, giving them the opportunity to access medical intervention earlier.
Now is the time for high impact, technology-led neuroscience research, and local and global partnerships to successfully navigate the great unknown – the human brain and nervous system.
This profile presents a snapshot of a number of exciting projects which will frame NeuRA’s quest for discovery over the coming year.
Ageing well – reduce your risk of dementia
A key focus of our ageing well research is developing a set of guidelines to help people to reduce their risk of dementia. Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 70 per cent of all dementia diagnosis. With further use of online technologies, we hope to support early diagnosis of this disease which will benefit long-term outcomes for all.
Schizophrenia breakthrough immune treatment program
NeuRA researchers have completed a breakthrough study advancing the understanding of and treatment for schizophrenia. New trials will be undertaken this year to build on this remarkable breakthrough incorporating immunological approaches into our research program.
Genomic analysis is providing greater insights into the causes of bipolar and neurocognitive disorders. NeuRA is pioneering ground-breaking research using whole genome sequencing to understand the biological base of these conditions. These insights will help development of tools for personalised medicines to better treat bipolar and neurocognitive disorders.
Discovery of spinal cord sensation
A new finding at NeuRA has shown that 50 per cent of all people with a complete thoracic spinal cord injury still have some surviving sensory nerve connections. A new trial later this year will aim to develop new protocols for rehabilitation in tandem with MRI imaging to study the somatosensory pathways which have survived, to understand how to boost messages to the brain to result in some form of sensory return.
Parkinson’s disease – an early detection program
NeuRA is focused on the development of an early detection program for Parkinson’s disease. Working on the identification of brain patterns using advanced MRI imaging, NeuRA plans to lead a major new research pathway to enable better outcomes for all through much earlier intervention.
A new Alliance
After extensive consultation, the NeuRA Board of Directors took on an additional role in early 2018, the responsibility for developing a new campus Alliance. Our ultimate aims are to provide the world’s best care, diagnosis, treatment and patient experience across all disorders that have their basis in our most complex organ, the brain. In an Australian and global first, this new partnership has been formed by South Eastern Sydney Local Health District, UNSW Sydney, Black Dog Institute and NeuRA to create an innovative precinct for research and clinical excellence in brain and mental health. The Alliance is structured to reimagine the way research, training and clinical services can work together to improve patient outcomes. To reflect the establishment of the Alliance, the board undertook a series of changes including recruiting a number of new directors to aid in achieving the Alliance Goals and establishing the NeuRA governing Council to maintain the focus of ongoing NeuRA activities.
A quest for discovery requires a dedicated team of scientists motivated by their desire to explore and fuelled by their passion to make a difference to their community – at NeuRA we pride ourselves on our ability to collaborate across disciplines to find the best answers.