Cellular & Molecular Neurodegeneration

The Cellular and Molecular Neurodegeneration Laboratory investigates the cause and potential treatments for brain diseases including dementia (Alzheimer’s disease), motor neuron disease (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) and Parkinson’s disease. These disorders (collectively known as neurodegenerative diseases) are a growing health issue in Australia and worldwide, with few treatment options available. In order to gain a better understanding of these diseases and develop new therapeutic approaches, the research team is currently developing new human brain cell culture methods for microglia, brain endothelial cells, organoids (mini-brains), and olfactory (nasal) cells.

The lab is utilising these new 2D and 3D human brain cell models to understand brain disease pathways, and the impact of environmental factors such as air pollution, SARS-CoV-2, and bushfire smoke on brain health. We have also established platforms for drug screening to identify potential new therapeutics for treatment of brain diseases.

CURRENT RESEARCH

  • 2D and 3D culture models of human microglia from Alzheimer’s disease, motor neuron disease and Parkinson’s disease
  • 2D and 3D cultures models of the blood-brain barrier
  • organoid (mini-brain) models of Alzheimer’s disease
  • olfactory (nasal) cell models of Alzheimer’s disease
  • impact of bushfire smoke and other forms of air pollution on brain health and disease
  • development of an olfactory cell assay for bushfire smoke impact on human health
  • improving drug delivery with focused ultrasound to transiently open the blood brain barrier
  • development of novel metal-drugs for treatment of neurodegenerative diseases

Staff:

Internal Collaborators:

External Collaborators:

  • Dr Katja Kanninen & Dr Tarja Malm, A.I. Virtanen Institute, Kuopio, Finland
  • Dr Lezanne Ooi, Illawarra Health and Medical Research Institute
  • Professor Alan Mackay-Sim, Griffith University
  • Professor Vincenzo La Bella, University of Palermo
  • Dr Alexandra Grubman, Monash University
  • Dr Alex Cristino, Griffith University
  • Dr Luke Knibbs, University of Queensland
  • Professor Zoran Ristovski, Queensland University of Technology
  • Professor Jari Koistinaho, Helsinki University
  • Professor Juergen Goetz, Queensland Brain Institute
  • Professor Sandra Hodge, The University of Adelaide
  • Dr Fabienne Reisen, CSIRO
  • Dr Luana Main, Deakin University
  • Dr Jeffrey Liddell & Dr Peter Crouch, Department of Pathology, University of Melbourne
  • Professor Ashley Bush & Professor Colin Masters, Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health
  • Professor Paul Donnelly, School of Chemistry and Bio21 Institute, University of Melbourne
  • NHMRC
  • MRFF
  • Motor Neuron Disease Research Australia (MNDRA)
  • FightMND Foundation

STUDENT PROJECTS

Investigating blood-brain barrier mediated drug delivery in neurodegenerative diseases

PhD project but may also be considered for Honours project The blood-brain barrier (BBB) lines the walls of brain microvessels, and is critical in preventing the entry of toxic molecules into the brain and enhancing the uptake of nutrients. The BBB is formed by brain endothelial cells (BECs), pericytes and neural cells (neurons and astrocytes) […]

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3D Alzheimer’s disease ‘brain on a chip’

PhD project but may also be considered for an Honours project Alzheimer’s dementia is a rapidly growing health issue for Australia and worldwide with an expected 136 million cases by 2050. The disease is characterized by accumulation of amyloid peptide and phosphorylated tau microtubule protein in the brain, together with an abnormal inflammatory response and […]

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Generating Alzheimer’s microglia for testing patient responses to immune-modulating compounds

Alzheimer’s disease is anticipated to affect 100 million patients with an annual cost of US$1 trillion by 2050. Promising amyloid-clearing therapies have failed to translate to clinical outcomes, and new approaches targeting the underlying molecular pathways of Alzheimer’s disease are urgently required. There has been a ‘re-awakening’ to the critical role of microglia in Alzheimer’s […]

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Olfactory stem cells for investigating the causes and progression of dementia

Background: With no clinical success yet achieved from amyloid-targeting strategies, there is an urgent need to gain new insights and develop effective treatments for people who have dementia. New stem cell-based approaches have generated much ex-citement in dementia research with the potential to study patient-derived neurons and supporting cells. However the commonly used ‘pluripotent’ stem […]

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Development of metal-based therapeutics for neurodegenerative diseases

PhD project but may also be considered for an Honours project Biological trace elements, also known as trace minerals, or biometals include copper, zinc, iron, selenium and manganese. These and other biometals have essential roles in many areas of brain function including energy metabolism, transcription factor activity, antioxidant regulation and synaptic signalling. During ageing and […]

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Generating patient-derived microglia to investigate neuroinflammation in MND

This project will build important new tools for understanding the role of the immune system in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a form of motor neuron disease (MND). Inflammatory responses by resident brain and spinal cord immune cells (microglia) have an important role in ALS/MND and are key targets for therapy. Until now, research on microglia […]

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3D view of a human microglia grown in culture

Interaction between human microglia (green) and neurons (red) in 3D culture

Human brain astrocytes growing in culture