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Otago neuroscientists’ studies supported

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Monday 16 December 2013 12:41pm


Two University of Otago brain researchers have gained support for their studies into Parkinson’s Disease and stroke recovery in the latest Neurological Foundation funding round.

University of Otago Christchurch scientist Dr Tracy Melzer has been awarded 2013 Neurological Foundation Philip Wrightson Postdoctoral Fellowship, valued at $178,551, for a project titled: “Mapping cognitive decline in Parkinson’s disease using MRI scanning”.

Department of Anatomy researcher Dr Antonio Beretta was awarded $159,106 for a project investigating how brain cells known as astrocytes contribute to limiting the spread of damage and facilitating recovery in the brain after stroke.

Project details:

Dr Tracy Melzer

New Zealand Brain Research Institute and
Department of Medicine, University of Otago, Christchurch


2013 Neurological Foundation Philip Wrightson Postdoctoral Fellowship

Mapping cognitive decline in Parkinson’s disease using MRI scanning

Dr Tracy Melzer’s research interests centre on the use of Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) techniques to increase science’s understanding of neurological conditions. During his PhD, he developed and employed a number of analysis techniques to investigate cognition in Parkinson's disease using MRI. As a postdoctoral fellow and the MRI research manager at the New Zealand Brain Research Institute in Christchurch, Dr Melzer has had the opportunity to extend this work to investigate brain development and other neurological conditions in addition to Parkinson's disease.
Dementia in Parkinson’s disease (PD), occurring in 80 per cent of patients, is by far the most burdensome aspect of this common neurodegenerative disorder. Therapies to slow down or stop the disease process are being rigorously pursued worldwide, but to assess the effectiveness of these new treatments, we need measures - or to use the more scientific term ‘markers’ - to determine changes in the brain associated with worsening cognitive impairments. Such markers would also assist with patient selection for early intervention clinical trials and improve patient outcomes.

As the 2013 Neurological Foundation Philip Wrightson Postdoctoral Fellow, Dr Tracy Melzer will use advanced brain scanning techniques to assess Parkinson’s disease patients who will be scanned at four year intervals.

The MRI scanning technology, relatively unexplored in Parkinson’s disease, will help Dr Melzer to determine the functional state of the brain across the cognitive spectrum and identify markers so that emerging therapies can be tested.

Dr Antonio Beretta

Department of Anatomy
University of Otago


Astrocytic influence on neuronal GABAA receptor subunits during neuronal development and after injury

Recovery from stroke is difficult and often lifelong. Fortunately, significant neurological and functional recovery does occur after stroke, and research has focused on enhancing this process with the aim of developing improved rehabilitative therapies and drug treatments. Research in the last two decades has shown that astrocytes (the brain’s support cells) play a central role in the functions of neurons. However, it is not clear what effect astrocytes have in recovery from stroke. The aim of this project is to assess whether these cells can influence a neuronal receptor called GABAA, which has a significant role in post-stroke recovery. This assessment will help to develop a detailed understanding of how astrocytes contribute to limiting the spread of damage and facilitating recovery in the brain after stroke.

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