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Game-changing Parkinson's research

Dr Louise Parr-Brownlie

Louise - brainDr Louise Parr-Brownlie’s (Ngāti Maniapoto and Ngāti Pikiao) career as a research academic has been entirely devoted to Parkinson’s disease– a devotion that is now receiving international attention and generous Neurological Foundation funding.

Two years ago Louise’s work within the University of Otago’s School of Medical Sciences and the Brain Health Research Centre reached new heights when she brought together a team that discovered an entirely novel method for observing brain circuitry affected by Parksinson’s disease.

“This particular project brings together viral vectors to label certain types of brain cells. We’re combining that with traditional, powerful imaging techniques to understand how some brain circuitry works, particularly brain circuitry connected with Parkinson’s disease.

“Experience and having the right team of people brought this about. Everyone brought their ideas to the discussion, we tried our theory out and it worked the first time!”

A 2014 Neurological Foundation grant of $193,611 was awarded to Louise to look at the anatomy of this connection.

“If we do find what we hypothesized, it will change the way clinicians approach the connections in the brain with regards to Parksinson’s disease. It may raise some novel sites to concentrate on, or even lead to new ways of treating Parkinson’s.”

The Neurological Foundation grant enabled Louise to bring Rachel Sizemore (Ngāi Tahu) into her lab as a postdoctoral fellow to conduct the imaging work.
“Rachel has the right skills and just happens to be Māori,” says Louise.

“Being a Māori scholar fundamentally affects the way I work. It affects my approach toward the students and staff I am responsible for in my lab, and the way I conduct my research. Scientists are taught to be quite removed, but that’s not how I interact with people, it’s not the way I do it. I mentor a number of staff and postgraduate students. I really want to see other Māori researchers come through if this is the career they choose.”