Investigator grants for Turner researchers

Three research projects from the Turner Institute have received funding by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) as part of the NHMRC Investigator grants, announced by the The Honorable Greg Hunt MP, Federal Health Minister at Monash University's Clayton Campus.

Federal Health Minister, The Honourable Greg Hunt MP, announced more than $47 million in funding for Monash researchers across all areas of health and medical research, including biomedical, clinical, public health and health services.

Of the 28 grants awarded to Monash University, three were for Turner Institute-led brain and mental health projects, exploring important health issues such as addiction, psychosis and dementia.

Congratulations to Professor Alex Fornito, Dr Adeel Razi and Dr Rico Lee on their successful projects.

A network approach to mapping and modifying brain changes in psychosis - Professor Alex FornitoProfessor Alex Fornito

Psychosis is a devastating neuropsychiatric syndrome that affects around 3% of the population and costs the Australian economy billions of dollars annually.

Professor Alex Fornito has been at the forefront of developing new methods for mapping brain changes in people with psychosis using non-invasive techniques such as Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), however MRI lacks the cellular and molecular resolution required to understand underlying disease mechanisms, limiting the potential for new treatments.

With his investigator grant, Professor Fornito will address this ‘resolution gap’ by incorporating next-generation, multimodal imaging technologies with molecular genetics and sophisticated mathematical modelling of disease processes, allowing the research to move beyond mere mapping of disease effects, to uncovering the underlying mechanisms of the disease and developing modifiers of psychosis onset.

Computational modelling to understand early-stage neurodegeneration - Dr Adeel Razi

Dr Adeel RaziDr Adeel Razi’s research will develop mathematical models for tracking early stage dementia using noninvasive brain imaging. This research will lead to better understanding of dementia progression, and will assist in the development of new pharmaceutical interventions.

Although rare, familial Alzheimer‘s disease (FAD) and Huntington’s disease provide the opportunity to study individuals who are cognitively normal but are destined to develop the disease. Dr Razi will investigate how information processing among brain regions in these individuals changes over time to develop sensitive neuronal markers to help predict the onset and spread of the disease.

Understanding the mechanisms underlying the early stages of dementia will provide valuable insights which will translate to detecting disease change more robustly, less variably, and earlier in the disease course, with consequent impact on the search for disease modifying treatments.

Using a purpose-built digital assessment tool to determine the mechanisms driving addictive behaviours and its utility to improve treatment engagement and outcomes - Dr Rico Lee

Rico LeeAustralians with an addiction lose an average of 14 years in life expectancy, with less than 1 in 4 people receiving care due to factors such as a lack of awareness, perceived stigma or shame, or barriers to services.

Partnering with industry and specialised addiction clinics, Dr Rico Sze Chun Lee will innovate, engage and provide access to a neuroscience-informed assessment tool that is purpose-built for people across all stages of addiction. Specifically, he will implement the BrainPAC app (BrainPark Assessment of Cognition app) to detect, track, and provide personalised feedback on the decision-making abilities that drive problem drinking, drug use, and gambling. BrainPAC is fun to use, low-cost, and easy to access on smartphones and tablets. The delivery of this tool will transform the way we predict risk of, and relapse back into addictions. It will demonstrate how we can empower and engage more Australians currently without access to services, who are often young, live in rural or remote communities, or socioeconomically disadvantaged.

In short, Dr Lee’s work will ensure more people experiencing addictions have access to effective assessment technologies based on the latest neuroscience.

Dr Lee's Investigator Grant is funded by the MRFF Million Minds Mental Health Mission.