4 Mar 2022

Neuroscience supports early career researchers with new initiative

Dr Juliana Silva (left) and Dr Ana Antonic-Baker (right)

by Dr Loretta Piccenna

Congratulations to Dr Juliana Silva and Dr Ana Antonic-Baker in Central Clinical School's (CCS) Department of Neuroscience who have each received a seed grant worth $25,000 to pursue new collaborations and research projects.

The Department of Neuroscience launched their inaugural “Find a Friend” initiative late in 2021 to provide funding for two Early Career Researchers or late stage (final year) PhD students to undertake a small (pilot) research project over 12 months.

Applicants were invited to submit a project for consideration, which would enhance innovative and collaborative research from different research groups and /or departments within the CCS. The Department received 10 applications, all of which were very interesting and novel - making the decision by assessors very difficult.

Dr Juliana Silva (Epilepsy & Behaviour Research Group), together with Dr Olaf Perdijk (Department of Immunology and Pathology) will harness the gut-brain axis to explore the potential of a novel ketogenic diet as a therapy to prevent the development of seizures and epilepsy in people with Alzheimer’s Disease. People with Alzheimer’s Disease have an increased risk of developing epilepsy, and approximately 10-20% will have at least one unprovoked seizure. The researchers will use an Alzheimer’s mouse model known as 5xFAD to explore the effects of the ketogenic diet on the composition of the gut microbiome and the metabolites that are released to produce a neuroprotective effect in the brain, reducing seizures and development of epilepsy.

Dr Silva said, “I am so excited to receive my first research grant with Dr Olaf Perdijk to pursue this project. Thank you to the department for providing such a great and important initiative for early career researchers to launch their research careers. We are very much looking forward to starting work on this project soon.”

Dr Ana Antonic-Baker (Stem Cells group, Department of Neuroscience) together with Dr Bianca Jupp (ARA-MBI Lead PET-CT Scientist and Group leader, Addiction and Impulsivity Laboratory, Department of Neuroscience) and Dr Karen Alt (Group leader, Nanotheranostics Research Group, ACBD) will develop and validate the use of iron oxide nanoparticles to track the long-term integration of human neuronal progenitor cells following transplantation in the mouse brain using Magnetic Particle Imaging (MPI). The findings will be useful to demonstrate the safety and efficacy of stem cell-based therapies for the treatment of neurological diseases. MPI is a breakthrough technology offering significantly enhanced sensitivity and temporal resolution compared to other modalities, is non-invasive and is faster than MRI and PET imaging.

Dr Antonic-Baker said, “I would like to thank Professor Helmut Butzkueven and the Department of Neuroscience for giving me an opportunity to embark on this exciting new collaboration with Dr Bianca Jupp and Dr Karen Alt. This funding will allow us to generate some exciting preliminary data that will form the basis of many future collaborative projects between the Department of Neuroscience and Australian Centre for Blood Diseases.”

Last year, the Alfred Research Alliance-Monash Biomedical Imaging (ARA-MBI) platform launched a Magnetic Particle Imaging system funded by the Australian Government through the Australian Research Council, with contributions from Monash University and RMIT University (see news article).

The successful awardees will not only gain skills in developing collaborative partnerships, but also will build their careers as expert researchers in their field, and use the findings from their projects to enable larger funding opportunities.

Professor Helmut Butzkueven
Professor Helmut Butzkueven
, Head of the Department of Neuroscience, said, “This new initiative is one of the first for our department since its launch back in 2018, due to ongoing generous support from the Van Cleef/Roet Foundation. Through a comprehensive departmental planning process, we identified the need for early career researches to have access to seed funding grants. 

"We also want to encourage new collaborations within the Central Clinical School. On behalf of the senior leadership and administration group I am very excited that we can support three talented female early career neuroscience researchers to launch new and exciting collaborations. We are very sorry for all the applicants who missed out, as we could only fund 2 of 10 applications. The choice was very difficult, as the quality was so high across the board.”

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