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Recipients of December 2006 Grant Round

Neurological Foundation Announces Recipients of December 2006 Grant Round

The Neurological Foundation of New Zealand awarded $1,026 million in research grants and scholarships in its December 2006 funding round. It was the largest amount awarded by the Foundation in a single round to date and is a reflection of the strength of neuroscience in New Zealand, said executive director Max Ritchie.

“The Foundation is also delighted that it can give young scientists the opportunity to build their careers by supporting them as they progress through their academic studies.”

University of Auckland neuroscientist Dr Hannah Gibbons was awarded the prestigious Wrightson Fellowship, which funds two years of post-doctoral research either in New Zealand or abroad. Dr Gibbons holds a PhD in Pharmacology and has been a researcher in the Department of Pharmacology for eight years.

Her $146,800 grant will enable her to study the role nitric oxide, a free radical molecule, plays in nerve cell death in the brain. These studies will offer an insight as to how nerve cells die in neurological diseases with the aim of designing drug therapies that can slow or alleviate disease progression.

Emma Kay of the University of Auckland and Melissa Barry of the University of Otago were awarded W & B Miller Scholarships, which will enable them to study towards their PhDs in neuroscience.

Ms Kay, who works in the physiology department at the University of Auckland received $75,000 and will study the role of melanocortin receptors in the brain. These are involved in many important neurological functions including body weight regulation, behaviour, memory and nerve regeneration. Understanding of this receptor will hopefully lead to the development of new preventative and therapeutic interventions for many neurological conditions.

Ms Barry, who studies in the University of Otago’s department of Anatomy and Structural Biology, received $89,859 and will study how the natural ‘theta’ rhythm of the brain can be used to enhance rehabilitation, particularly after brain injury such as a stroke.

There were six recipients of project grants:

Dr David Palmer of Lincoln University was awarded $123,532 for his ongoing study into Batten disease, a group of inherited childhood diseases that result in severe brain atrophy, blindness and seizures of increasing severity, leading to the premature death of about 8 per 100,000 births world-wide.

Dr Deborah Young from the University of Auckland’s department of Molecular Medicine & Pathology received $100,000 to investigate why behavioral interventions such as stimulating intellectual activity, reducing calorie intake and regular exercise improves brain functions and increased resistance to genetic and environmental stress. The researchers will look in particular if a brain protein, SIRT1, is a key link between environment and improved cerebral health.

Dr Anne La Flamme from Wellington’s Victoria University received $177,014 for a study into the role specialized immune system cells called macrophages play in the development of multiple sclerosis.

Dr Yiwen Zheng of the University of Otago’s Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology received $92,177 to test a new drug treatment to prevent or reverse the effects of the inner ear damage on the hippocampus. People with damage to the balance organs of the inner ear experience dizziness, but also suffer from memory problems related to shrinkage of the hippocampus.

Dr John Beca, of Auckland’s’ Starship Children’s Hospital received $75,755 for a study that seeks to find the best method to detect and monitor brain injury in children.

Prof. Janusz Lipski of the University of Auckland department of Physiology received $118,241 to study if a group of antibiotics known as β-lactams that were recently found to be effective in fighting infections in the nervous system may also have neuroprotective properties that could limit the damage caused by stroke.

Two small projects were funded:

Dr Tim David from the University of Canterbury’s Centre of Bioengineering received $9,900 to build a scale model of the blood vessels in the brain with an artificial heart, and explore the flow in a way that is not possible with patient imaging. This is part of an ongoing study Dr David is conducting of blood flows within the brain.

Ms Suzy Mudge from the University of Auckland received $10,000 to conduct a study that will look at the effects a group exercise programme has on stroke victims, to see if it changes walking, measured by an activity monitor, in home and community environments in addition to changes to walking as it is usually measured by tests in a physiotherapy clinic.

The Neurological Foundation of New Zealand raises money to support neurological research and education in New Zealand.

The Foundation is almost totally funded by individual New Zealanders, with more than 95 per cent of contributions coming from donations and bequests.

The funds are capitalised and the income is used to fund research grants. This system provides ongoing funding for career scientists and long-term research projects. All grant applications are internationally peer-reviewed to ensure only high-quality research is funded.


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