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Young Scientist Wins Award For Innovative Research

Queenstown Molecular Biology Meeting

Media Release
Monday August 29

Young Scientist Wins $10,000 Award For Innovative Research Into Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s And Huntington’s Diseases

A University of Auckland scientist has won this year’s prestigious Invitrogen QMB Award for her research investigating new treatments for neurological conditions suchas Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s Diseases.

Dr Debbie Young is being presented with the $10,000 Award at the annual Queenstown Molecular Biology Meeting (QMB) in front of over 200 scientists from New Zealand and overseas. She will give an address on Wednesday evening entitled, ‘Viral vectors: tools for neurological disease modelling and therapeutics’.

“It’s fantastic to be the 2005 recipient of the Invitrogen Award and follow in the footsteps of some of the best young scientists in New Zealand over the last few years, “ she says. “It provides a wonderful opportunity for me to present my work and form new collaborations with other scientists, as well as highlighting some of the fascinating molecular neuroscience research being conducted in this country.”

Dr Young is a Health Research Council Hercus Fellow, and Co-Director of the Gene Therapy Laboratory in the Department of Molecular Medicine at the University of Auckland. For the last nine years she has been working with Professor Matt During developing new models of neurological diseases and the new treatment strategies for brain disorders.

Debbie Young has been instrumental/interested in the enhanced development of adeno-associated viral (AAV) vectors. AAV vectors are viruses that do not cause any known disease, which have been genetically engineered to carry and transfer synthetic genes to cells, including brain cells.

Dr Young and her colleagues have been working on using AAV vectors to examine how particular synthetic genes play a role in killing brain cells, for instance in the development of Parkinson’s Diseases and other neurological conditions. This work is providing significant new information in understanding the role of specific genes in disease and the possibility of developing new drugs.

Another area of research interest is the development of new strategies for maintaining learning and memory in ageing and Alzheimer’s Disease. Her laboratory is now investigating whether both environmental and genetic influences can be used to stimulate the growth of new neurons in the brain to improve learning and memory.

This strategy is based on her laboratory’s previous research showing that rats housed in an enriched environment show increased resistance to brain injury and increased birth of new brain cells.

Dr Young completed her MSc in Biochemistry at the University of Otago, then completed a PhD in the Pharmacology Department of the University of Auckland followed by postdoctoral studies in Prof. During’s Gene Therapy Laboratory in the Department of Molecular Medicine.

Dr Young’s research has been funded by the Health Research Council, Marsden Fund, and FRST. For further information on the QMB Meeting see


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