The following grants were approved prior to July 2016
Inter-cellular mitochondrial transfer: A cell survival mechanism in response to disease and therapy in neural tissues
The death or survival of brain cells in disease: investigating the biological processes
A striking recent discovery in cell biology is the transfer of mitochondria between cells. Mitochondria are the ‘batteries’ of cells. Mitochondrial transfer has now been shown in a variety of research settings, however the purpose or consequences of this phenomenon are not yet clear. Mr Rowe’s research will examine mitochondrial transfer in two related diseases – neurodegeneration and neurological cancer. Each disease involves the same neural tissues, however the outcomes in each are vastly different - death of the cells in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, or survival and proliferation of the cells in cancer. This under- explored, likely fundamental biological process has implications for treatment strategies in both neuro-oncology and neurodegeneration.
Non-epileptic seizures in individuals attending neurological services
Examining non-epileptic seizure patient data to better understand symptoms and provide improve clinical services
Psychogenic non-epileptic seizures (PNES) are movements, behaviour or impaired levels of consciousness that appear epileptic in nature but often lack underlying pathophysiological findings, resulting in frequent presentation to hospital settings, misdiagnosis and unnecessary treatments. Though there are no abnormal electrical discharges in the brain, the experience of seizures are real to sufferers, who frequently have no control over these events. The significant distress and daily disruption caused by PNES to patients and their families can be reduced by providing neurologic and psychiatric services better targeting patient’s needs. Key to this is gaining a better understanding of the neurological and psychogenic mechanisms driving PNES. Theses seizures have a high occurrence in hospital settings, with prevalence rates up to 40%. This project aims to assess the frequency of PNES presentations to clinical neurological services at Auckland DHB over a three year period. The symptoms experienced by the patient and any other health concerns will be charted. Potential benefits of the study include gaining a better understanding of symptoms, and providing improved clinical services.
Structure-function studies of ceroid-lipofuscinosis neuronal protein 5 (CLN5)
How do mutations of a gene affect protein function in the brain and cause Batten disease?
Batten disease is a group of severe childhood neurodegenerative conditions for which there is no known cure. The disease is caused by genetic mutations in one of several different ‘CLN’ genes, including CLN5. However, little is known about the normal function of the protein that is programmed by the CLN5 gene. Dr Mace’s study aims to solve the three-dimensional structure of the CLN5 protein, so as to understand how mutations in the CLN5 gene perturb protein function and cause Batten disease. This may also provide a template for future therapies that directly target the CLN5 protein.
Health and Bread Intervention Trial (HABIT): Cognitive Benefits
Does altering the composition of bread improve brain health and reduce the risk of stroke?
Given the prevalence of stroke in New Zealand, stroke prevention is of the utmost importance. Relatively simple dietary changes have the potential to reduce stroke risk while simultaneously improving cognitive functioning, and thus quality of life in people otherwise at higher risk of stroke. Dr Machado’s study will assess the potential cognitive benefits of altering the composition of bread (low salt, beetroot, or hazelnut) consumed by people with at least one marker of metabolic syndrome (for example, having high blood pressure). The findings have the potential to reveal a simple means to improve cognitive health while simultaneously reducing risk of stroke.
Assessing RRMS patient sera for soluble blood brain barrier disrupting factors
Does a subset of multiple sclerosis patients have a dysfunction to the barrier protecting the brain?
Relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS) is a chronic neurological condition where the immune system attacks structures in the brain. The disruption to the blood vessels in the brain in the regions where the lesions form is a key feature of multiple sclerosis pathology. Dr Graham’s research aims to investigate whether RRMS patients have soluble factors circulating in their blood that can directly cause disruption to the special vascular structure known as the blood brain barrier (BBB). The BBB protects the brain from foreign substances in the blood that may injure the brain. Identification of these factors will provide an understanding of mechanisms involved in blood brain barrier dysfunction and in the future lead to strategies that directly strengthen the compromised vessels.