From flies to Fitbits: the new neuroscience of sleep

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Co-Chairs: (L-R) A/Prof Sarah Cohen-Woods (Flinders University) and Dr Heidi Walkden (EMCR Brain Science Network)

Associate Professor Sarah Cohen-Woods conducted a PhD in social genetic and developmental psychiatry at King’s College, London. She started her own group in 2016 at Flinders, heading the Behavioural Genetic and Environmental Mechanisms (Behavioural GEMs) Lab. Her research focusses on incorporating environmental factors, such as life-stress with genetic variation in depression, psychosis, disordered eating, and cognition. Her goal is to understand how it is that the environment interacts with out genetics, and with ourselves, at the biological level. Her lab also studies how risk can be passed on from one generation to the next, by way of epigenetic mechanisms, and gene-environment interactions, and how this impacts physical health. Her work spans multiple levels of investigation, from behaviour to genomes to fertility outcomes.

Dr Heidi Walkden has more than six years’ experience in community pharmacy and neuroscience research. Dr Walkden’s research identified a new path by which bacteria can move directly from the nasal cavity to the spinal cord, all within 24 hours. In recognition of Dr Walkden’s significant contribution to research and science communication, she was named in the Forbes 30 Under 30 list in the category of Healthcare and Science. Dr Walkden was later named as a Finalist in the 2022 Young Australian of the Year award. Dr Walkden was selected for the 2021-22 cohort of the Australian Science Policy Fellowship Program, run by the Office of the Chief Scientist, and is now working within a federal government department. In this role, Dr Walkden uses her expertise to advise and contribute to government research and policy work.


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A/Prof Deborah Apthorp
University of New England

Symposium: The effects of mild sleep restriction on behavioural and neural correlates of vigilant attention

Associate Professor Deborah Apthorp is a cognitive neuroscientist interested in how human brains interact with the world through the senses, and how this sometimes breaks down in conditions such as Parkinson’s disease and schizophrenia. To study this she uses tools such as visual perception and visual illusions, postural sway, EEG, and machine learning. After an earlier career as a classical musician, Deborah gained a Bachelor of Psychology with Honours from Macquarie University in 2006, followed by a PhD in Psychology from the University of Sydney in 2011. She began as an NHMRC Early Career Research Fellow at ANU in 2013. In 2018 she took up a continuing position in the School of Psychology at the University of New England, where she is currently based. She also collaborates closely with the OHIOH group at the ANU School of Computing.

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Dr Hannah Scott
Flinders University

Symposium: New and Emerging Approaches for Monitoring the Sleeping Brain

Dr Hannah Scott (BPsyc(Hons), PhD) is a Research Fellow at the Flinders Health and Medical Research Institute (FHMRI) interested in the development and use of consumer sleep monitoring technologies to better assess and manage sleep health and its disorders. Dr Scott is co-inventor of THIM: the first wearable device that tracks and treats chronic insomnia, and is currently leading a world-first, internationally-funded randomised controlled trial comparing THIM to other digital therapies for the treatment of insomnia. At 2.5-years post-PhD, Dr Scott has 30 publications and multiple grants totalling over $500,000. Dr. Scott is also co-Chair and co-Founder of the Early Career Researcher Council of the Australasian Sleep Association (ASA): Australia’s peak sleep advocacy body.

Laura Jacobson

A/Prof Laura Jacobson
Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health, University of Melbourne

Symposium: Modulating sleep/wakefulness architecture to tackle neurodegenerative disorders: studies in tau transgenic mice.

Associate Professor Laura Jacobson heads the Florey Sleep and Cognition group at the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health and is Honorary Principal Fellow at the Department of Biochemistry and Pharmacology, University of Melbourne. She received her PhD from the University of Basel, Switzerland in 2006 (Summa cum Laude). After a brief postdoctoral fellowship with F. Hoffmann - La Roche Ltd (Basel) she joined Novartis Institutes of Biomedical Research (Basel) as a laboratory head, conducting drug discovery research for neurodegenerative, sleep and psychiatric disorders. She established her laboratory at The Florey in 2016. Her lab uses pharmacology, polysomnography and behavioural neuroscience methodologies in mice and murine disease models to investigate the interfaces between sleep and cognition and the implications thereof for neurodegenerative and psychiatric disorders. Laura has given ~20 invited talks, is an editor with 5 journals and has published over 70 peer reviewed articles.

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Prof Bruno van Swinderen
Queensland Brain Institute, The University of Queensland

Symposium: Conservation of sleep functions through evolution

Professor Bruno van Swinderen received a PhD in evolutionary biology from Washington University in the USA. His postdoctoral work at the Neurosciences Institute in San Diego led him to the scientific study of consciousness. Taking an evolutionary view, he developed paradigms to study perception in the smallest animal brains. His discoveries include uncovering neural correlates of sleep and selective attention in flies, as well as fundamental mechanisms of general anaesthesia. He has been running a cognitive neuroscience lab at the Queensland Brain Institute, in The University of Queensland, since 2008. His lab uses invertebrate models such as flies and worms to understand how the brain is able to block or prioritise sensory stimuli, as happens during sleep and attention. He is particularly interested in how sleep and attention might have co-evolved to optimise adaptive behaviour and is keen to promote research in simpler animal models to understand complex brain processes.


Toxicity and Axonal Degeneration: Mechanisms and Biomarkers

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Chair: Prof Matthew Kiernan (University of Sydney)

Professor Matthew Kiernan is the Bushell Chair of Neurology at the University of Sydney and Co-Director of the Brain and Mind Centre. He is Chair of the World Federation of Neurology ALS/MND Specialty Group and established the Pan-Asian Consortium for Treatment and Research in ALS (PACTALS). He is President of the Brain Foundation and recently completed tenure as Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry (BMJ Publishers UK).


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Prof Anna King
Wicking Dementia Research and Education Centre, University of Tasmania

Symposium: Understanding axon pathology and degeneration in neurodegenerative disease

Prof King is a neuroscientist with research interests that lie in understanding the adverse neuronal changes that result in the clinical symptoms of neurodegenerative disease with a focus on vulnerable structures such as the axon and synapse.

Prof King is currently Associate Director (research) at the Wicking Dementia Research and Education Centre at the University of Tasmania where she leads a team of researchers, technical staff and students. She received training in molecular biology and biochemistry at Durham University (UK) and the Heart Research Institute (Australia), before completing her PhD in neuropathology of ALS at the University of Tasmania in 2008. She is a past NHMRC boosting dementia research leadership fellow, funded to investigate blood biomarkers of neurodegenerative disease and has held Bill Gole MND and Dementia Australia fellowships.

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Dr Andrea Loreto
University of Cambridge

Symposium: A druggable pathway of programmed axon death as a driver of environmental neurotoxicity and toxic neuropathies

Loreto is an Italian researcher and neuroscientist with an interest in mechanisms driving axon degeneration in human disease and toxic neuropathies. After being awarded his PhD from the University of Nottingham (UK) in 2017 with a thesis on mechanisms of injury-induced axon degeneration, he joined the Coleman laboratory at the University of Cambridge (UK) as a Research associate, focusing on axon degeneration caused by mitochondrial dysfunction. In 2018, he was awarded a Sir Henry Wellcome postdoctoral fellowship from the Wellcome Trust to work at the University of Cambridge and the University of Oxford (UK) on programmed axon death, toxic neuropathies, and Parkinson’s disease. Loreto will join the Save Sight Institute and the School of Medical Sciences at the University of Sydney as a Research fellow to start his own group in the last quarter of 2023, to drive a translational programme tackling toxic neuropathies and neurodegenerative diseases of the eye.

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Prof Irina Vetter
The University of Queensland

Symposium: Macrophage-derived interleukin-1ß is both necessary and sufficient for vincristine-induced peripheral neuropathy

Prof Vetter is Head of the Sensory Neuropharmacology Group and NHMRC Investigator at the University of Queensland. She obtained her PhD in 2007 from the School of Pharmacy, UQ, and conducted studies as a National Health and Medical Research postdoctoral fellow at the Queensland Brain Institute and at the Institute for Molecular Bioscience in the areas of axon guidance and venom peptide pharmacology. She is a recipient of an International Association for the Study of Pain Patrick Wall Young Investigator Award (2018) and has a strong background in neuropharmacology, pain models, toxinology and high-throughput screening. Her current main research interests lie in the fields of peripheral pain mechanisms, biodiscovery of venom peptide ion channel modulators and analgesic drug discovery.

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A/Prof Susanna Park
Brain and Mind Centre, University of Sydney

Symposium: Axonal degeneration in paclitaxel-induced peripheral neuropathy: genetic, neurophysiological and serum biomarkers

Associate Professor Susanna Park PhD leads a multidisciplinary research group investigating assessment strategies, treatments and risk factors in neuropathy and neuromuscular disease at the Brain and Mind Centre, University of Sydney, Australia. She obtained her PhD from the University of New South Wales, Australia in 2010, focused on axonal excitability profiles in toxic neuropathy and subsequently undertook postdoctoral training at the Institute of Neurology, University College London as an RG Menzies NHMRC fellow. Park has developed an international reputation for neuropathy research, receiving a number of significant awards, including the 2018 AW Campbell award from the Australasian Neuroscience Society for best contribution to neuroscience in the first 5 postdoctoral years. She has been awarded competitive research funding for projects across clinical neurosciences, focused on chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy and immune-mediated neuropathies.


On their shoulders: Australian neuroscience pioneers

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Co-Chairs: (L-R) Prof Marcello Costa (Flinders University) and Prof Elspeth McLachlan (University of New South Wales & Neuroscience Research Australia)

Prof Marcello Costa: Born in Turin in 1940. Foundation member of the Australian Neuroscience Society Foundation lecturer in Physiology at the School of Medicine at Flinders University. Personal Chair in Neurophysiology 1986.
Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science; Centenary Medal of Australia; Life membership of the Australian Neuroscience Society; Life achievement award of the Federation of the Neurogastroenterology and Motility Societies; AO of Australia Retired in 2022 as Matthew Flinders Distinguished Emeritus Professor.

Speaker to 88 International conferences. Published 298 articles in peer reviewed Journals; 89 reviews and book chapters; Edited 6 books; Co-authored 2 Books Developed several Neuroscience based topics at Flinders.

In 2011 with four colleagues founded “Friends of Science in Medicine” an association to fight against the influence of pseudoscience in medicine.

His extracurricular activities include climbing in the Italian Alps and exploring Patagonian glaciers, playing classic and folk guitar and singing in choirs. Crossed St Vincent Gulf twice windsurfing.

Prof Elspeth McLachlan: Studied structure and function of autonomic and afferent pathways for >40 years. Known for work on synaptic transmission in ganglia and on sympathetic sprouting and immune cell invasion in dorsal root ganglia after nerve damage. Published >130 original research papers (~7,500 citations).

Max-Planck-Forschungspreis with Wilfrid Jänig of the University of Kiel (1993).

Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science (1997).

Other recognition includes Ramaciotti Medal (1998), Centenary Medal (2001), and Distinguished Achievement Award (2006) and named ANS Plenary Lecture (2018)
Lecturer at Sydney and Monash (15 years), NHMRC Research Fellow (13 years), Head of Physiology & Pharmacology at the University of Queensland (1988-1993) and Professor at University of NSW (1993 on, now Emeritus).

Second Secretary of Australian Neuroscience Society (1984-90, after Ian Chubb) and then President (1996-7). Served the research community including with IBRO and at NHMRC and as PVC (Research) at UNSW.

Watched Marcello Costa crossing St Vincent Gulf.


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Prof Glenda Halliday
University of Sydney

Symposium: Australasian women neuroscientists

Glenda Halliday is a career neuroscientist specialising in neurodegeneration (h-index 131, >82,500 cites, Google Scholar). She has been an NHMRC Fellow since 1990, and is currently an NHMRC Leadership Fellow at University of Sydney.

Glenda started her research in neuroscience by studying the neurochemical dopamine and its systems in a variety of animal species, including humans. Her focus on understanding the brain and its workings in people has distinguished her neuroscience career. Her research has provided the evidence base for international diagnostic criteria for neurodegenerative diseases.

Recognitions include memberships to the Australian Academies of Science and of Health and Medical Sciences, 2022 NSW Scientist of the Year, 2021 Robert A. Pritzker Prize for Leadership in Parkinson’s Research - Michael J Fox Foundation, 2020 and 2014 NHMRC Elizabeth Blackburn Awards, 2016 Cozzarelli Prize for outstanding paper - National Academy of Sciences, USA, 2013 NHMRC high achiever, 2011 ANS Nina Kondelos Prize.

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Prof John Furness
University of Melbourne

Symposium: Pioneering Australasian assaults on the neuroscience mountains of knowledge

John Furness is a fulltime research Professor with dual appointments as Professor in Anatomy and Physiology at the University of Melbourne and as Senior Principal Research Fellow in the Florey Institute. He is former Head of Anatomy and Physiology and was also Associate Dean Research.

He is one of Australia’s most cited scientists in the top 100 Biomedical Scientists in Australia (h-index 117, 51000 cites). He is best known for his work in unravelling the intrinsic circuits of the enteric nervous system, for the chemical coding hypothesis, and for the discovery and identification of sensory neurons intrinsic to the digestive tract. He is also known for his research into evolution of the digestive system and the influences of diet.

Honours and awards include Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science, 1989; Fellow, Academy of Science of Bologna 2005; Centenary Medal, Australia, 2003; Fellow of the Australian Academy of Health and Medical Sciences, 2017.

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Prof Laurie Geffen
The University of Queensland

Symposium: Raymond Dart’s paradigm shift on the evolution of the human brain

Laurie Geffen is Professor Emeritus of Human Physiology at Flinders University and Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry at the University of Queensland.

From 1954- 1966, he trained in anthropology, physiology and medicine at Witwatersrand University, neuroscience at Magdalen College, Oxford University.

In 1967 he emigrated to Australia, becoming Reader in Physiology and Pharmacology at Monash University. In 1973, he was appointed Foundation Chair of Human Physiology at Flinders University, where he was also the Foundation Convener of the Centre for Neuroscience. He subsequently became Dean of Medicine and then Pro – Vice Chancellor.

From 1991-1994, he was Dean of Medicine at the University of Queensland and from 1995-2002, Professor of Psychiatry and Co-Director (with Professor Gina Geffen) of the Cognitive Psychophysiology Laboratory.

BSc (Hons I), MSc, MB BCh (Rand); BA (Hons I), MA, DPhil (Oxon); MD (Flin. Hon); Fellowships: FRACP, FRANZCP, Fulbright, Churchill College, Weitzman Institute; President, Honorary Member, and Distinguished Service Award (ANS); AM (Australia)

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Prof William Blessing
Flinders University

Symposium: Lithium treatment for mania: John Cade’s discovery re-interpreted

Bill Blessing graduated from Sydney University in Arts and then Medicine. He trained as Neurologist at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Flinders Medical Centre and New York Hospital. He completed a PhD at Flinders and a Post-Doctoral studies at Cornell Medical College before appointment as NHMRC Fellow and Clinical Neurologist at Flinders. In 1997 he published The Lower Brainstem and Bodily Homeostasis. A guiding research idea is that the brain integrates all the psychological, behavioral, physiological and biochemical processes that maintain the integrity of individual life. There is just one nervous system. Bill has elucidated brain neurotransmitter pathways that regulate the individual’s thermoregulatory response to environmental threat. These studies are relevant to drugs used to treat mental illness. He is writing a book tentatively entitled “Cognition, Temperature and Metabolism” and, in collaboration with Damien Keating and YoYo Ootsuka, is researching the mechanism whereby lithium ameliorates mania.


Neuroplasticity in Health and Disease

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Co-Chairs: (L-R) Dr John Power (University of New South Wales) and Dr Joanna Yau (University of New South Wales)

John Power received his PhD from Northwestern University for his examination of learning and age-related changes in hippocampal neuronal excitability and connectivity, under the supervision of John Disterhoft. His research training continued under the direction of Pankaj Sah as a post-doc at the Australian National University (1999- 2003) and as a Research Fellow and Smart State Fellow at the Queensland Brain Institute (2003-2011), where he made key contributions to our understanding of how neuromodulatory transmitters alter the physiology of neurons in the brain's memory centres. In 2012, he was appointed Senior Lecturer in the School of Biomedical Sciences at UNSW Sydney and established the Neuroplasticity in Memory and Addiction Group within the Translational Neuroscience Facility. His preclinical research uses advanced neuroscientific tools to identify neural pathways and physiological signalling processes underlying motivated learning that can be directed towards treatments for conditions such as addiction and obesity.

Joanna Yau is a postdoctoral research fellow in the School of Psychology at UNSW. She completed her PhD in 2016 during which she investigated the role of glutamatergic prefrontal cortical neurons in predictive fear learning. Currently, she uses various techniques such calcium imaging, optogenetics and chemogenetics to understand how the relationship between different populations of amygdala neurons determines fear and safety learning.


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Prof Gaven McNally
University of New South Wales

Symposium: Instrumental aversion coding in the basolateral amygdala

Gavan McNally is Professor of Psychology at UNSW. His research addresses the behavioural and brain mechanisms for elementary forms of learning, motivation, and memory, with a particular focus on how these mechanisms can inform understanding of disorders such as anxiety and addiction.

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Prof Johanna Montgomery
University of Auckland

Symposium: The role of plasticity in disorders of the central and peripheral nervous systems

Professor Johanna Montgomery completed her PhD in Physiology at the University of Otago, New Zealand. She then performed 6 years of postdoctoral research at Stanford University where she gained expertise using complex cellular electrophysiology techniques to examine synapse plasticity. She is now Principal Investigator of the Synaptic Function Research Group at the University of Auckland. Her prestigious national and international awards include the Physiological Society of New Zealand Excellence in Research Award, the Colin Pillinger International Exchanges Award (Royal Society London), the Eppendorf and Science International Prize for Neurobiology Finalist Award, and the Servier Distinguished Young Investigator Award (International Union of Physiological Scientists). She holds numerous international and national service roles, and has mentored 56 PhD, Masters, and Honours students, and Research Fellows, who together have won 66 awards/grants. She currently holds a Royal Society James Cook Fellowship to support her research in neural plasticity in the human heart.

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A/Prof Jai Polepalli
National University of Singapore

Symposium: Synaptic architecture of remote memory recall

Jai Polepalli completed his PhD at the University of Queensland in 2009 under the supervision of Pankaj Sah. He then completed 6 years of postdoctoral research training at Stanford University (USA) in the labs of Robert Malenka and Thomas Sudhof, gaining expertise in using molecular manipulations of defined neuronal populations to elucidate the functions of synaptic molecules in defined circuits and behaviours. From 2015 – 2019 Dr Polepalli was a Research Associate at Stanford University. In 2020, Dr. Polepalli was appointed a tenure-track Assistant Professor in the Department of Anatomy at the National University of Singapore. His current research combines molecular manipulations with a variety of cell biological, optogenetic and electrophysiological assays to provide insight into the fundamental molecular mechanisms of synaptic transmission and various forms of synaptic plasticity.

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Dr Melissa Sharpe
University of California

Symposium: A novel hypothalamic-midbrain circuit for model-based learning and its implications for substance use disorder

Dr. Melissa Sharpe conducted her Ph.D. under Simon Killcross at UNSW. Dr. Sharpe’s PhD research focused on the contribution of medial prefrontal cortex to the modulation of attention and action. In 2015, Dr. Sharpe moved to the US to pursue postdoctoral training with Geoffrey Schoenbaum (NIDA-IRP) and Yael Niv (Princeton Neuroscience Institute), under an NHMRC CJ Martin fellowship. There, Dr. Sharpe learnt how to combine the use of cell-type specific optogenetics with sophisticated behavioral tasks in rodents. She leveraged these tools to reveal the role of dopamine neurons and the lateral hypothalamus in reinforcement learning. In 2018, Dr. Sharpe began her lab at UCLA receiving funding for her lab’s work investigating the neural circuits involved in reinforcement learning from National Institute of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF). Dr. Sharpe returns to Australia in 2023, taking up a faculty position at University of Sydney.

ADNF Symposium: Development of cortical neurons and networks

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Co-Chairs: (L-R) Dr Nathalie Dehorter (The University of Queensland) and A/Prof Silvia Velasco (Murdoch Children's Research Institute)

Nathalie Dehorter obtained a PhD in Neuroscience in 2010 in Marseille, France and worked as EMBO Research Fellow at the CSIC in Alicante, Spain and the MRC, King’s College of London, UK. In 2017, she started her research group at The Australian National University (ANU) to investigate the molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying the development and adaptation of interneurons in the brain, in health and disease. For her research, she uses multi-disciplinary approaches, from molecular biology to electrophysiology and behaviour. She currently leads the Neuronal Development Laboratory at the Queensland Brain Institute, The University of Queensland, and The Eccles Institute of Neuroscience, ANU. She is a NHMRC research grant fellow and an ANU Future Scheme awardee.

Silvia Velasco leads the Neural Stem Cells Laboratory at the Murdoch Children's Research Institute (MCRI), in Melbourne, Australia. With her team, she is developing pluripotent stem cell-derived 3D organoid models of the human brain to study brain development and understand how alterations during this process lead to neurodevelopmental disorders. She is also a principal investigator at the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Stem Cell Medicine (ReNEW), a recently established international collaboration that strives to advance a new generation of effective and safe stem cell-driven therapies. Her interest in stem cell biology and neurodevelopmental neuroscience began during her postdoctoral trainings at New York University and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, in the USA. She completed her Ph.D. in Human Biology at the University of Turin, Italy.


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A/Prof Mary Tolcos
RMIT University

Symposium: What shapes our brain? Understanding the processes that drive cortical folding

A/Prof Mary Tolcos is an ARC Future Fellow (2019-2023) in the School of Health and Biomedical Sciences, RMIT University. She is head of the Neurodevelopment, Protection and Repair Laboratory, and Deputy Leader of the Healthy Foundations Research Group. Mary has led 3 NHMRC project grants (1 current) and has been a co-CI on 4 others. She currently leads ARC-funded research to better understand how the brain folds in collaboration with bioengineers, neuroscientists, neuroimaging specialists and stem cell biologists in Australia, USA, and Japan. Mary has 67 career publications (and 2 book chapters) in leading journals for the field (e.g., Progress in Neurobiology, Lancet Child and Adolescent Health, Cerebral Cortex, Biological Psychiatry). Her team currently consists of 1 postdoctoral researcher, 1 research assistant, 7 HDR and 2 Hons students. Mary is on the editorial board for Scientific Reports, Journal of Developmental Origins of Health and Disease, and Frontiers in Pediatrics.

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Dr Annalisa Paolino
The University of Queensland

Symposium: Shared and divergent timings of neurodevelopmental dynamics shape the brains of placental and marsupial mammals

After completing a Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery at the University of Insubria, (Italy), Dr Paolino was awarded a competitive international scholarship to start her PhD at the Queensland Brain Institute (Australia), which she completed in 2019. Her doctoral work, which produced 7 publications in high impact journals, investigated how neocortical connections develop and evolved across mammals, specifically focusing on the genetic regulation of neuronal circuits in mice and marsupials. During her postdoctoral work in the labs of Dr Laura Fenlon and Dr Rodrigo Suárez at the School of Biomedical Sciences (The University of Queensland) she is investigating how the heterochrony of developmental processes in brain formation can cause dramatic changes in brain structure, both in the context of disease and evolution.

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Prof Denis Jabaudon
University of Geneva

Symposium: Temporal controls over neuronal diversity in the developing brain

Denis Jabaudon obtained his M.D. and Ph.D. degrees from the Universities of Lausanne and Zurich in Switzerland, where he studied mechanisms controlling synaptic transmission. After a neurology residency at Geneva University Hospital, he completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard University, in the laboratory of Prof. J. Macklis, where he began his investigation of genetic control of cortical development. He is currently a professor at the University of Geneva, Switzerland, since 2009, where he has his independent research group and also practices as a clinical neurologist at Geneva University Hospital. His work is focused on the molecular mechanisms controlling the emergence of neuronal diversity during development, with a particular focus on how neuronal circuits assemble during corticogenesis. His discoveries have earned him several prestigious prizes, including most recently the Joseph Altman Award and the Cajal Cortical Discoverer Award.

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Dr Belal Shohayeb
The University of Queensland

Symposium: BDNF regulates Wave Regulatory Complex nanodynamics and actin remodelling in spines

Belal obtained his PhD in 2020 from the University of Queensland. During his PhD, he studied brain development and how neural stem cells contribute to brain growth as it develops. Following his PhD, Belal joined Prof. Helen Cooper lab as an early career researcher at the Queensland Brain Institute where he developed an interest in synaptic plasticity, a process pivotal for neuronal connectivity and brain wiring and a crucial player in learning and memory throughout life. Belal received several awards in recognition of his research achievements, including the Vice Chancellor’s Award for Research Excellence from the University of Nottingham (2015), the Young Scientist Program fellowship (2018) the Australian Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Fellowship (2021).

Advances in Glutamate AMPA Receptor Regulation in Health and Disease: Exploring Novel Mechanisms

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Co-Chairs: (L-R) A/Prof Victor Anggono and Hilary Yong (Clem Jones Centre for Ageing Dementia Research
Queensland Brain Institute, The University of Queensland)

Victor Anggono received his PhD (2017) on the role of dynamin 1 phosphorylation in presynaptic vesicle recycling with Prof. Phillip Robinson from the University of Sydney. Supported by an Australian National and Health Medical Research Council (NHMRC) CJ Martin Fellowship and an International Human Frontiers Science Program (HFSP) Long-term Fellowship, Victor undertook his postdoctoral training with Prof. Richard Huganir at Johns Hopkins University, USA, investigating the molecular mechanisms of postsynaptic glutamate receptor trafficking. In 2012, Victor returned to Australia and established the Synaptic Neurobiology Laboratory at the Queensland Brain Institute, The University of Queensland. In 2022, Victor was promoted to Principal Research Fellow and subsequently received an Australian Research Council (ARC) Future Fellowship (2023 – 2026). Victor’s current research aims to unravel the cellular and molecular mechanisms of neuronal communication to understand physiological phenomena such as synaptic plasticity, learning, memory, behaviour and disease.

Hilary Yong received her Bachelor of Science (2012) and Master of Molecular Biology (2014) from The University of Queensland. Hilary became a Research Assistant, first at the Translational Research Institute where she worked on skin cancer and co-authored 5 papers. In 2017, she joined Queensland Brain Institute and investigated the molecular basis of activity-dependent synaptic vesicle retrieval, which resulted in a first-author paper in Cell Reports (Yong et al., 2020). Supported by an Australian Postgraduate Award and the Ian Lindenmayer Top-Up Scholarship, Hilary commenced her PhD study with A/Prof. Victor Anggono investigating the subunit-specific regulation of NMDA-type glutamate receptors in neurons. Hilary has already published a first-author paper (Yong et al., Cell Reports, 2021) based on her PhD study and is currently writing up her thesis.


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A/Prof Vladimir Sytnyk
University of New South Wales

Symposium: The neural cell adhesion molecule 2 (NCAM2) regulates the assembly and synaptic targeting of calcium-permeable AMPA receptors

A/Prof. Vladimir Sytnyk received his PhD degree in 2002 at the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine. He then completed postdoctoral training at the Centre for Molecular Neurobiology, Hamburg University Medical School Eppendorf, Hamburg, Germany, under the supervision of Prof. Melitta Schachner. In 2009, he relocated to Australia and established his laboratory at the University of New South Wales in Sydney. His group uses transgenic mice, neuronal and other types of cell cultures, advanced microscopy techniques and biochemistry to analyse molecular mechanisms utilised by cell adhesion molecules to promote synaptogenesis, maintain synapses, and regulate neurotransmitter release and synaptic plasticity. Previous work from his group showed that neural cell adhesion molecules regulate neuronal differentiation, synapse formation and maturation, and that the loss of synaptic adhesion causes synapse disassembly in Alzheimer’s disease.

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A/Prof Joanna Williams
University of Otago

Symposium: Glutamate receptor remodelling by the memory-enhancing molecule sAPPα, scrutinised with super-resolution microscopy

Joanna’s laboratory approaches the study of Alzheimer’s disease from the unique perspective of both trying to understand the molecular mechanisms harnessed by the potentially therapeutic molecule, sAPPα and to identify microRNA-biomarkers within plasma which may be useful in its diagnosis. Joanna is a molecular biologist who received her degrees from the University of Otago and is Co-Director of the Dementia Prevention Research Clinic’s Blood biobank. Core to Joanna’s research interests is understanding of the molecular mechanisms underpinning long-term potentiation. This work has included studies of glutamate receptor synthesis and trafficking alongside control of gene expression.

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Dr Arne Ittner
Flinders University

Symposium: Protein kinases, tau phosphorylation and Alzheimer’s disease: New insights on AMPA receptor regulation

Dr Arne Ittner received his PhD from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH Zurich), Switzerland in 2010 for work on signal transduction by protein kinases. Dr Ittner is a Senior Research Fellow within the Flinders Health and Medical Research Institute (FHMRI) of Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia and leads the Laboratory for Molecular Dementia and Memory Research (aiLab). Dr Ittner did post-doctoral research at the University of Sydney, and the University of New South Wales, where he started his research team in 2017. Dr Ittner moved his team to Macquarie University in 2019 and to Flinders University in 2021. Dr Ittner’s team is currently supported by ARC, NHMRC, Dementia Australia Research Foundation, BrightFocus Foundation and Flinders Foundation. Dr Ittner is an NHMRC Emerging Leadership fellow.

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Dr Jing Zhi Anson Tan
Clem Jones Centre for Ageing Dementia Research Queensland Brain Institute, The University of Queensland

Symposium: Copine-6 is a calcium sensor that mediates AMPA receptor exocytosis during synaptic potentiation

Anson received his PhD in 2018 from the University of Melbourne. His PhD research investigated the molecular basis of membrane trafficking and protein sorting in the trans-Golgi network and resulted in five papers in journals such as the Journal of Biological Chemistry and Molecular Biology of the Cell. In 2020, Dr Tan joined the Queensland Brain Institute as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Clem Jones Centre for Ageing Dementia Research. His research in the Anggono laboratory aims to understand the molecular mechanisms of membrane trafficking in neurons, processes that are essential for synaptic transmission, plasticity, learning and memory, and how their dysregulation leads to neurodegenerative diseases and neuropsychiatric disorders. More recently, he discovered the brain-specific C2 domain-containing protein Copine-6 as a calcium sensor that mediates activity-induced insertion of AMPA receptors to the plasma membrane.


Risk, uncertainty and reward: Understanding the computational and neural mechanisms of decision making in health and disease

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Chair: Prof Jason Mattingley (The University of Queensland)

Professor Jason Mattingley is Foundation Chair in Cognitive Neuroscience at The University of Queensland, where he holds joint appointments in the Queensland Brain Institute and School of Psychology. His work is directed toward understanding the behavioural and neural processes associated with three key cognitive functions – selective attention, prediction and decision making – with a particular focus on how these processes influence learning, multisensory integration, motor behaviour, neural plasticity and consciousness. In 2007 Professor Mattingley was elected a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia, and in 2012 he was awarded the Australian Psychological Society’s Distinguished Contribution to Psychological Science Award. In 2020 he received the Australasian Cognitive Neuroscience Society’s Lifetime Contribution Award. He is a Fellow of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (Brain, Mind and Consciousness Program), and Chair of the Australian Academy of Science’s National Committee for Brain and Mind.


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Prof Agnieszka Tymula
University of Sydney

Symposium: Risk attitude with a backward-looking reference point

Professor Agnieszka Tymula is Chief Investigator in the ARC Centre of Excellence for Children and Families over the Life Course, co-Director of the Neuroeconomics Summer School, Director of the University of Sydney Experimental Economics Laboratory and elected Board Member of the Society for Neuroeconomics. Agnieszka’s interdisciplinary research in economics, psychology, and neuroscience is aimed at better understanding how people decide, why they sometimes make seemingly wrong decisions, and how to make them better choosers. She has consistently published in top journals including Nature Communications, American Journal of Political Science, and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Agnieszka has been awarded over $33 million in national competitive grants as a Chief Investigator. Her strong media presence includes interviews with BBC World Newsday, Time, CNN, Huffington Post, Guardian, NBC News, BBC Radio, ABC Science Online, ABC Radio National, Bloomberg Businessweek, and Scientific American.

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Prof Carsten Murawski
University of Melbourne

Symposium: Neural correlates of computational complexity

Professor Carsten Murawski is a decision scientist and professor in the Department of Finance as well as Director of the Centre for Brain, Mind and Markets at the University of Melbourne. In his research, Carsten uses laboratory experiments to study individual decision-making, in particular its neurobiological basis. The current focus of his work is on determining in what ways information processing constraints in the brain affect decision-making, how they lead to phenomena such as cognitive biases, and in what ways decision-making can be improved. Carsten is particularly interested in complex problem solving, learning about uncertainty, social interaction and meta-decision making. He has been a visiting researcher at New York University and at Columbia University (New York). Carsten holds a PhD from the University of Zurich, Switzerland and a Master’s degree from the University of Bayreuth, Germany.

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Dr Laura Bradfield
University of Technology, Sydney

Symposium: Striatal neuroinflammation impairs goal-directed decision-making via dysregulation of astrocytic function in a regionally specific manner

Dr Laura Bradfield is a Senior Research Fellow and Head of the Brain and Behaviour Lab in the School of Life Sciences at UTS. Laura joined UTS as a Research Fellow in 2018 after undertaking PhD and postdoctoral studies at UNSW. Her lab investigates the behavioural and brain mechanisms of compulsive disorders and dementia, the glial mechanisms of goal-directed action, and contextual modulation of goal-directed action. This work is funded by an ARC Discovery Project and an NHMRC Ideas Grant. Laura has published more than 30 journal articles, including first-author articles in the prestigious journals Neuron and Nature Neuroscience. She is a Reviewing Editor at eLife and eNeuro, and an Associate Editor at the Journal of Neuroscience. In 2022, Laura won the UTS Faculty of Science “Supervisor of the Year” award. She is passionate about increasing diversity in science and improving conditions within the scientific community for underrepresented individuals.

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Dr Dragan Rangelov
The University of Queensland

Symposium: Neural mechanisms of integrated decision making

Dr Dragan Rangelov is a research fellow at the University of Queensland. His research focuses on cognitive and neural mechanisms of decision making in health and illness. In his work, Dragan combines psychophysics, brain imaging, noninvasive brain stimulation and computational modelling. Dragan has published his research findings in high-impact interdisciplinary journals (PNAS, eLife, TICS), as well as leading neuroscience journals (Journal of Neuroscience, NeuroImage), and highly regarded experimental psychology journals (JEP:General). Dragan has received more than $2.0 million from national competitive research funding schemes in Australia and Germany. In 2023 Dragan commenced a joint appointment between the Queensland Brain Institute and School of Economics at The University of Queensland, where he is developing a research programme in neuroeconomics, an emerging interdisciplinary field at the intersection of economics, psychology and neuroscience. Dragan’s work has been featured in popular news outlets, including Fairfax Media, Xinhua News, Campus Review and ABC Radio National.


Following your guts: advances in enteric nervous system research

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Co-Chairs: (L-R) Dr Lincon Stamp and Dr Marlene Hao (University of Melbourne)

Lincon’s research has focused on stem cell populations and development of stem cell therapies. He completed his PhD at Monash University (2011), investigating hepatopancreatic differentiation from human embryonic stem cells. During his postdoc, he published many seminal studies investigating the development of stem cell therapy for enteric neuropathies (Gastroenterology, Journal of Clinical Investigation). His work continues to focus on developing cell therapy for Hirschsprung Disease, a neurodevelopmental disorder affecting the enteric nervous system, as well as expanding these models to other digestive diseases. His work has been funded by ARC DECRA, NHMRC, and MRFF.

Marlene completed her PhD at the University of Melbourne in 2013, investigating the development of neuronal activity in the enteric nervous system. She completed her postdoc at the KU Leuven, Belgium, funded by an NHMRC CJ Martin fellowship. She returned to Australia in 2017 and started her independent research, co-heading a laboratory with Lincon Stamp. Her work now focuses on examining plasticity of the ENS, including enteric glia as a source of progenitor cells in the gut, neural and glial-immune interactions in the gut, and the application of these pathways to protect against gliomas.


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A/Prof Faranak Fattahi
University of California, San Francisco

Symposium: hPSC-derived enteric ganglioids for the study of GI motility disorders

Faranak Fattahi is an Assistant Professor at the UCSF Department of Cellular and Molecular Pharmacology and the Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regeneration Medicine and Stem Cell Research. She received her undergraduate training at the University of Tehran and her graduate training at Weill Cornell Graduate School of Medical Sciences and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center with Dr. Lorenz Studer. Her lab uses human pluripotent stem cells to study the peripheral nervous system (PNS) development and function and to identify disease mechanisms and new therapeutic targets for peripheral neuropathies. Her goal is to build complex and comprehensive hPSC-based models of the human PNS that combine multiple, defined cell types, stimulation modalities and biological readouts. These advanced models will enable in depth genetic and cellular studies of the PNS physiology and disease and offer a framework for hPSC based disease modeling across various tissue types and disease states.

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Prof Nikhil Thapar
The University of Queensland and Queensland University of Technology

Symposium: The Enteric Nervous System in disease: how much do we really know?

Professor Nikhil Thapar is a leading clinical specialist for children with gastrointestinal motility and functional disorders. He is co-editor of the textbook of Paediatric Neurogastroenterology and chair of the Neurogastroenterology and Motility committee of the Asia Pan-Pacific Society of Paediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition. He was previously Academic Lead for gastroenterology and Head of the Neurogastroenterology and Motility service at Great Ormond Street Hospital and UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health (London, UK). His research programme has focused on the enteric nervous system specifically relating to the pathogenesis and treatment of gut motility disorders including the potential of regenerative medicine as novel therapies for the most severe gastrointestinal neuromuscular disorders. Professor Thapar has published >150 original articles in these fields, including seminal studies on the isolation of human enteric neural stem cells and functional rescue of models of human gastrointestinal neuropathies.

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Dr Shanti Diwakarla
University of Melbourne

Symposium: The Gut and Parkinson’s Disease

Shanti completed her PhD in 2007 at the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health where she investigated the role of mitochondrial dysfunction in neuronal apoptosis. She has undertaken several postdoctoral positions one of which was at Uppsala University, Sweden, where she received a Carl Tryggers Fellowship to investigate the memory enhancing effects of insulin-regulated aminopeptidase inhibitors. Following her return to Australia, she joined the Digestive Physiology and Nutrition Laboratory with Prof. John Furness where she worked on projects to develop new therapeutics for Parkinson’s disease (PD)-related GI dysfunctions using various mouse models of PD. She now co-heads the Gut Barrier and Disease Laboratory, alongside Dr Rachel McQuade, in the Department of Anatomy and Physiology, University of Melbourne, where the group investigates how gut barrier integrity contributes to health and disease.

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Prof Nick Spencer
Flinders University

Symposium: Identifying the functional role of intrinsic sensory neurons in the enteric nervous system using neurogenetic technology

Nick Spencer completed his BSc (Hons) in 1995 and then his PhD in Neurophysiology in 1998 at the Department of Physiology, Monash University, Australia. In 1998, Nick then moved to The University of Nevada School of Medicine, where he spent 10 years, developing his own laboratory and obtaining NIH funding. Since 2008, he has been a balanced academic at Flinders University, where he is currently a Mathew Flinders Professor. Research in his laboratory is focussed on the neurophysiological basis of pain pathways in visceral organs, and the neural control mechanisms that underlie the enteric nervous system (ENS). He has published more than 180 peer reviewed articles on autonomic neuroscience, including editor of 2 recent books on the ENS and visceral pain. He has recent (past 5 years) senior author papers in Journal of Neuroscience, Neuron and Gastroenterology, with invited reviews to Nature.


Unexpected mechanisms of experience-dependent plasticity across the lifespan

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Chair: Prof Timothy Bredy (University of Queensland)

Professor Timothy Bredy earned a PhD in Neurological Sciences from McGill University in 2004. Following CIHR and NSERC funded postdoctoral fellowships at the University of California Los Angeles, he established the Cognitive Neuroepigenetics Laboratory at the University of Queensland in 2009. In 2014, he was appointed Assistant Professor at the University of California Irvine and was promoted to Associate Professor with tenure in 2016. In 2017, he returned to the Queensland Brain Institute where he is currently Professor and Director of the UQ Centre for RNA in Neuroscience. Research in the Bredy laboratory is focused on understanding how the genome is connected to the environment, and how this relationship shapes brain and behaviour throughout life.


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Prof Coleen T. Murphy
Princeton University

Symposium: The role of the Cer1 transposon in horizontal transfer of transgenerational memory

Coleen T. Murphy is the Director of LSI Genomics and the James A. Elkins, Jr. Professor in the Life Sciences in Molecular Biology at Princeton University. She graduated from the University of Houston with a B.S. in Biochemistry and Biophysics, then earned her doctorate in Biochemistry at Stanford University. Dr. Murphy’s team has developed C. elegans models of human “quality of life” aging phenotypes, including cognitive aging and reproductive aging, and identified genetic pathways that can extend each of these processes with age. At the molecular level, these processes are remarkably well-conserved through humans. Dr. Murphy’s team has developed new genomic approaches to isolate and transcriptionally profile all of C. elegans’ adult cells, in order to better utilize this system as a model for human disease, and developed assays to model human neurodegenerative disease, including learning, memory, and movement disorders. Most recently, her team has shown that a memory pathway they first identified to rescue memory in old worms can also rescue memory in old mice, using the same molecular pathways.

Murphy’s awards for her research include being named a Pew Scholar, March of Dimes Basil O’Connor Scholar, Keck Scholar, McKnight Fellow, Sloan Fellow, Glenn Medical Research Foundation awardee, Howard Hughes Medical Institute-Simons Faculty Scholar, and she was awarded the New Innovator, Transformative R01, and two Pioneer awards from the NIH Director’s office. She has won both the Women in Cell Biology Junior and Mid-Career Awards for Excellence in Research from the American Society for Cell Biology. She is the Director of the Glenn Foundation for Research on Aging at Princeton, and she is the Director of the Simons Collaboration on Plasticity in the Aging Brain.

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Dr Shaam Al Abed
Australian National University

Symposium: H2A.B: A new epigenetic player that controls the consolidation of long-term memory

Shaam Al-Abed is a postdoctoral researcher within the Eccles Institute of Neuroscience at the Australian National University. Her research primarily addresses the mechanisms underlying memory formation, from psychology to synapses, in health and disease. She earned a PhD in 2013 from the University of Bordeaux, France, during which she investigated the mechanisms underlying the degradation of cognition with age and in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. In 2018, she joined Dr Nathalie Dehorter’s group to study how development shapes the neuronal circuits responsible for memory processing, and how defects in neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism leads to cognitive disabilities.

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Dr Jocelyn Widagdo
Queensland Brain Institute

Symposium: Understanding the m6A-epitranscriptomic regulation in neuronal functions and dysfunctions

Jocelyn received her PhD in 2011 from the University of New South Wales. She undertook her first postdoctoral training with Prof. Richard Huganir at Johns Hopkins University, USA, investigating the molecular mechanisms of postsynaptic glutamate receptor trafficking in synaptic plasticity. In 2012, Jocelyn returned to Australia and joined the laboratory of Prof. Tim Bredy at the Queensland Brain Institute, where she discovered the role of N6-methyladenosine (m6A) RNA methylation in memory processes in mice. She is currently a Team Leader at the Clem Jones Centre for Ageing Dementia Research, where her team discovered the links between dysregulated m6A signaling in normal ageing and in Alzheimer’s disease (pathological ageing).

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Dr Paul Marshall
Australian National University

Symposium: DNA G-quadruplex is a transcriptional control device that regulates memory

Paul began at the University of Guelph exploring the role of fructose-glucose ratios on memory strength with Professor Francesco Leri. He was also involved in projects exploring drug addiction. Following this, he worked at the University of California Irvine with Professor Timothy Bredy and focused on the role of RNA editing for memory stability during extinction learning. During this time he also learned memory theory from Prof. James McGaugh and a plethora of cutting-edge RNA biology techniques from Professor Robert Spitale. Mid-way through his PhD in the USA he dropped out, and begin a new PhD at the University of Queensland on dynamic DNA structure states and memory. He then undertook post-doctoral work at the University of Queensland with A/Prof Timothy Bredy on the mechanisms of DNA structure establishment and their functional consequences before his move to ANU to start his lab on mechanisms of memory in the nucleus.


Navigating the neuro-vascular interactions in health and disease

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Co-Chairs: (L-R) A/Prof Matilde Balbi (Queensland Brain Institute) and Prof Lucy Palmer (The Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health)

Dr Balbi obtained a PhD in Neuroscience in November 2015 at the Ludwig Maximillian University (LMU) of Munich, Germany, working on neurovascular coupling in health and disease. During her postdoctoral training at the University of British Columbia, Canada, Dr Balbi received interdisciplinary training which allowed her to acquire expertise across a range of techniques and applications including functional imaging across different scales (micro- and meso-scale), electrophysiology, behavioural and computational neuroscience. During this period Dr Balbi received several awards including the Martin Rothstein Post-doctoral Award, the prestigious Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research Fellowship, and the Heart and Stroke Foundation Canadian Partnership Fellowship. For her scientific leadership, she was appointed co-chair for basic science to the executive committee of the Canadian Partnership for Stroke Recovery.

In September 2020 Dr Balbi joined the Queensland Brain Institute and established the Neuromodulation and Homeostatic processes Laboratory that aims to understand the mechanistic principles of brain homeostasis and how alterations to this system affect function.

Dr Balbi’s work has been recognised with the Early Innovation award in the Bionics Challenge 2021 (Brain, Neurotech & AI category) from Bionics Queensland. The CIA was awarded financial support by UQ through joint initiatives with University of Zurich (Synergy Fund) and the Southern University of Science and Technology (Centre for Neuroscience and Neural Engineering). Dr Balbi’s project leadership is further exemplified by the recent awarding of NHMRC Ideas grant in 2022.

Professor Lucy Palmer is a Viertel Senior Medical Research Fellow and Theme leader and head of the Neural Network Laboratory at the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health, University of Melbourne. She completed her Master of Science from the University of Minnesota and Ph.D at the Australian National University. Her postdoctoral research at the University of Bern, Switzerland and Charite University, Berlin investigated dendritic encoding of sensory information in vivo. Within her laboratory, she has continued investigating dendritic integration in vivo, with a focus on the changes in neural encoding during learning and memory.


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A/Prof Brad Sutherland
University of Tasmania

Symposium: Microglia interactions with pericytes, implications for cerebral blood flow in health and disease

Brad completed his PhD at the University of Otago (Dunedin, New Zealand) where he investigated the activation of inflammatory pathways in the brain after stroke. He then took up a Post-doctoral Research Fellowship with the Acute Stroke Programme, Radcliffe Department of Medicine, University of Oxford (Oxford, UK). During his time in Oxford, he formed an interest in the regulation of blood flow in the brain in health and disease. This led to studies investigating the interaction between brain tissue and the blood vessels, the signalling mechanisms that controlled energy delivery to the brain, and how these were disrupted in conditions such as stroke. In mid-2016, Brad arrived at the University of Tasmania to build a neurovascular research program to continue his research into cerebral blood flow and brain diseases such as stroke and dementia. He uses a wide range of in vitro and in vivo models to assess mechanisms of neurovascular regulation and models of disease.

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Dr Louis-Philippe Bernier
University of British Columbia

Symposium: Brain pericytes and perivascular fibroblasts are stromal progenitors with dual functions in cerebrovascular regeneration after stroke

Dr. Louis-Philippe Bernier, from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, studies how perivascular cells such as pericytes and perivascular fibroblasts respond to tissue injury and coordinate cerebrovascular regeneration. Identifying and characterizing a vascular niche of cells capable of promoting revascularization may uncover new targets for regenerative therapies. Dr. Bernier’s research program also focuses on how microglial changes occurring after stroke and metabolic challenge affect the neuroinflammatory drive in the brain. Other projects include characterizing novel roles of purinergic signalling in mediating pathological vascular constriction. By studying how vascular and immune cells of the brain behave and communicate under pathological conditions, our hope is to identify novel ways to improve recovery after cerebrovascular injuries.

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Phoebe Mayne
Queensland Brain Institute

Symposium: Longitudinal monitoring of mesoscale calcium activity and hippocampal electrophysiological recordings in a mouse model of small vessel disease

Phoebe Mayne is in her final year of her PhD investigating the role of perineuronal nets, an aggregate form of the extracellular matrix, in plasticity, learning and memory. Fascinated by neuroplasticity, she plans to develop as an independent researcher where she aims to further understand the intrinsic role that plasticity plays in recovery from cerebrovascular injuries. She is currently a senior research assistant with Dr. Matilde Balbi establishing a mouse model of small vessel disease. She is interested in understanding whether induction of synchronised 40Hz gamma oscillations by visual stimulation might improve cognitive and motor outcomes as a result of sporadic occlusions of small vessels in the brain microvasculature.

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Dr Virginie Lam
Curtin University

Symposium: Plasmalogen supplementation attenuates doxorubicin-induced cognitive impairment and neurodegenerative changes in mice

Virginie Lam, a current Raine Foundation Fellow and recent recipient of the NHMRC Early Career Fellowship, co-leads the Vascular Neurotherapeutics Laboratory based at the Curtin Health Innovation Research Institute. Virginie currently leads a multidisciplinary team conducting preclinical animal model studies and clinical trials. Her research program broadly investigates the efficacy of nutritional and pharmacological interventions in restoring neurovascular and cognitive function in aim to prevent the onset and progression of vascular-based neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease and multiple sclerosis. Virginie has interests in various in vivo and ex vivo neuroimaging modalities, including confocal microscopy, MRI/PET, and ultrasound; cognitive/behavioural testing, and biomarker analyses.


Exploring the Link Between Viral Infections and Neurodegeneration

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Co-Chairs: (L-R) Dr Merja Joensuu (Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology, and Queensland Brain Institute, The University of Queensland) and Dr Pranesh Padmanabhan (Clem Jones Centre for Ageing Dementia Research, Queensland Brain Institute)

Dr Merja Joensuu is a joint UQ Amplify Fellow and group leader at the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology and Queensland Brain Institute, The University of Queensland. Her laboratory uses advanced imaging techniques such as live cell super-resolution imaging and high-resolution electron microscopy, and a range of cell biological techniques, to understand the molecular mechanisms regulating cellular membrane dynamics, aiming to discover novel therapeutic strategies for the treatment of genetic diseases, viral infections and neurointoxication pathologies.

Dr Pranesh Padmanabhan is a research fellow at the Clem Jones Centre for Ageing Dementia Research, Queensland Brain Institute. He leads the molecular imaging and computational modelling team within Prof Jürgen Götz group. His team combines mathematical modelling and quantitative imaging techniques to discover pathomechanisms underlying the progression of several infectious and neurodegenerative diseases.


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Adj. Prof Giuseppe Balistreri
University of Helsinki

Symposium: The mechanisms of SARS-CoV-2 neuron infection

Adj. Professor Giuseppe Balistreri is a principal investigator at the University of Helsinki where he has led a research team since 2018. He is an Academy of Finland Research fellow, and Honorary Adj. Assistant Professor at the University of Queensland, and has over 20 years research training in cell biology and microbiology. Using state-of-the-art genetic screening approaches, high-content imaging and automated image analysis, and live human viruses, Dr. Balistreri’s research lies at the interphase of cell biology and virology. The focus is on the identification and characterization of host cell factors that play key roles in the infection of highly pathogenic human viruses, including SARS-CoV-2, Respiratory Syncytial virus, Zika and Thick borne encephalitis virus, among others. Among his most recent discoveries are the identification of neuropilin-1 receptor as key host factors for SARS-CoV-2 high infectivity, the mechanism of SARS-CoV2 infection in neurons, and the identification of potent combinatorial antiviral therapies that fully protect against lung infection and disease in pre-clinical animal models. He also has emerging interests in the impact of viral infections in the development of neurodegenerative diseases. Using a series of potent and intranasally available host cell inhibitors developed in collaboration with his team, he is elucidating the therapeutic potential of targeting cellular proteases, kinases, and viral entry factors to prevent neuron and lung infection, and hopefully pave the way to cost-effective therapies against multiple human viruses.

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Dr Julio Aguado
Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology, The University of Queensland

Symposium: Senolytic therapy alleviates physiological human brain aging and COVID-19 neuropathology

Dr Julio Aguado obtained his PhD in 2018 from the European School of Molecular Medicine (University of Milan) as a Marie Curie fellow of the European Union where he investigated the role of non-coding RNAs generated upon induction of DNA damage during aging. He has published several first-author papers on mechanisms of aging in top-tier journals including Nature Communications, Nature Protocols and Aging Cell. Dr Aguado currently works as a Senior Research Fellow in the Wolvetang group at The University of Queensland, where his focus is centered in the study of human aging and how viral infections accelerate this process, including induced neurotoxicity and chronic inflammation. His research is supported by grants awarded to Julio Aguado as CIA, including an NHMRC Ideas Grant (APP2001408), a University of Queensland Early Career Researcher Grant (application UQECR2058457), a Brisbane Children's Hospital Foundation grant (Project-50308) and a Jérôme Lejeune Postdoctoral Fellowship (Paris, France).

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Prof Trent Woodruff
The University of Queensland

Symposium: Viral infections and the brain: implications for Parkinson’s disease

Professor Trent Woodruff leads a research team at The University of Queensland, Australia, and has over 20 years research training in pharmacology and neuroimmunology. He is an NHMRC Leadership fellow and President-elect of the International Complement Society. Professor Woodruff’s research revolves around the innate immune system, and its role in neurodegenerative diseases such as ALS and Parkinson's disease. He also has emerging interests in the impact of ageing and viral infections in the development of these diseases. Using a series of potent and orally active complement and inflammasome inhibitors developed in collaboration with his group, he is elucidating the therapeutic potential of targeting neuroinflammation to treat brain disease. He has an established track record of translating basic laboratory discoveries into human clinical trials, with two of his in-house drug discoveries currently undergoing clinical testing in neurological diseases through successful commercialisation and licensing deals. Professor Woodruff will be speaking about viral infections and the brain, and what implications it has for Parkinson’s disease.

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Dr Victoria Lawson
University of Melbourne

Symposium: Predicting the neurological impact of SARS-CoV-2 Variants of Concern

Victoria Lawson is an infectious disease researcher with 30 years expertise investigating the transmission and pathogenesis of emerging infectious disease with experience developing models to study HIV-1, prion and prion-like diseases and most recently SARS-CoV-2 the cause of COVID-19. Her research interests are in understanding how strain variation in transmissible agents causes neurodegeneration in the central and enteric nervous systems. These models have been used to address applied issues including reducing the risk of disease transmission during surgery, identifying strain specific effects of treatment, developing diagnostic tools, and understanding the pathogenesis of strain variation. As a trained virologist who has spent 20 years investigating transmissible neurodegeneration, CI Lawson is uniquely placed within Australia to address acute and chronic COVID associated brain injury.