National brain research initiative launch this week

18 May 2015
Prof Richard Faull and Prof Cliff Abrahams from Otago
Distinguished Professor Richard Faull (left) and Professor Cliff Abraham

A new national brain research initiative intended to help New Zealanders to age well with a healthy brain will be launched simultaneously in Auckland and Dunedin this week. (22 May)

Brain Research New Zealand - Rangahau Roro Aotearoa, a new government funded Centre of Research Excellence (CoRE), aims to use its unique combination of scientific, clinical and community connections to unlock the secrets of the ageing brain.

The launch will be led by the Minister of Science and Technology, the Hon Steven Joyce, with a video link between researchers gathering at the sites of the CoRE’s key research units, the University of Auckland’s Centre for Brain Research and the University of Otago’s Brain Health Research Centre.

The CoRE is unique in being co-hosted by the University of Otago and the University of Auckland, with collaboration from researchers at University of Canterbury and AUT University, and clinicians at various District Health Boards.

The multi-centre research team will develop a better understanding of ageing-related neurological disorders in order to find new therapies that can lead to improved life-long brain health for all New Zealanders. 

 “We will be applying our cutting edge neuroscience research in partnership with outstanding clinicians and our growing relationships with the community, to develop a truly national, collaborative response to an issue of critical importance to all New Zealanders,” says BRNZ co-director, Professor Cliff Abraham from the University of Otago.

Fellow co-director, Professor Richard Faull from the University of Auckland, says the unique advantage of this CoRE is the collaborative integration of ageing-related neuroscience at New Zealand’s premier tertiary institutions.

“New Zealand has a world-class brain research capability and Brain Research New Zealand (BRNZ) draws on this capability to create a cohesive and mutually reinforcing national team. This collaboration brings researchers engaged in ageing-related neuroscience under one virtual roof, reducing competition and encouraging cooperation.”

BRNZ will seek answers to the increasing burden of ageing-related brain disorders in New Zealand and the world.

It is anticipated that by 2036 there will be 1.2 million New Zealanders aged over 65 years (up to 20 percent of the population), of whom 200,000 will be over 85 years old.

This increase in the number of older New Zealanders will result in large numbers of people living with the effects of ageing-related brain disorders such as stroke, dementia (e.g. Alzheimer’s disease), Parkinson’s disease, and various sensory/motor dysfunctions.

These disorders currently affect one in five of the New Zealand population aged over 65 years, and by 2036 one in four older New Zealanders will have an ageing-related brain disorder, creating a significant economic and social burden.

Dementia cost New Zealand $955 million in 2011 and the net value of the burden of disease was $12.4 billion, while stroke and traumatic brain injury have direct costs of over $250 million per annum.

“This represents a huge challenge that requires the development of a new approach that has a whole-of-life brain-health focus,” says Professor Faull. “To build a national response to meet this challenge, BRNZ will harness the world-class research capacities of our universities, the clinical expertise across our hospitals, in partnership with community organisations supporting people living with the devastating effects of ageing brain disorders.”

Brain Research New Zealand will be a national enterprise that, through a coordinated research, training and education programme, will develop new capacity and capability to address the increasing burden of ageing-related brain disorders.

The launch of Brain Research NZ takes place at 11am on  Friday 22 May 2015, at both the University of Auckland’s Grafton Campus and the University of Otago’s Medical School campus in Dunedin. 

Brain Research New Zealand has four main research themes:

·        Theme 1 will focus on understanding the ageing brain with a view to developing new therapies. It moves from basic scientific understanding of changes in the ageing brain at the molecular, cellular and network level through to evaluation of potential therapeutics in animal models and humans.

·        Theme 2 will centre on the discovery, development and validation of novel biomarkers and disease indicators for normal ageing, neurodegeneration and stroke. These will be used for early identification of susceptible individuals who can then be enrolled in treatment studies in other Themes.

·        Theme 3 will expand our understanding of neuroplasticity mechanisms in adulthood and ageing, and allow development of procedures that harness this plasticity to assist rehabilitation therapies or technologies.

·        Theme 4 will involve a wide range of community outreach activities, as well as trials of new clinical therapies. The latter will include a national network of Dementia Research Clinics to promote the clinical evaluation and implementation of preventative measures and early interventions developed in the other Themes to minimise ageing-related neurological decline.

Outcomes from the BRNZ CoRE

BRNZ will produce world class collaborative research across the nation that addresses key health and social challenges relating to brain health.

BRNZ will fulfil its mission through internationally leading-edge brain research that will deliver new knowledge on brain ageing and associated neurological disorders.

Over time and in partnership with key stakeholders, (including the Ministry of Health, District Health Boards, and Māori), BRNZ will translate this new knowledge into new treatments, therapies and interventions to provide innovative solutions for ageing-related brain disorders in New Zealand.

To fulfil the mission of Brain Research New Zealand­ - Rangahau Roro Aotearoa we will achieve the following long-term outcomes:

·        A Centre of Neuroscience Research Excellence that is nationally and internationally recognised and sought after for its expertise and innovation in the study of the aging brain.

·        Improved strategies for prevention, early detection and slowing of progression of ageing-related neurological disorders, through identification of early biomarkers and an improved understanding of the mechanisms of ageing-related neurological disorders.

·        Improved clinical practice by translating scientific knowledge into treatments, strategies and care pathways aimed at delaying or moderating ageing-related neurological disorders

·        Better health outcomes, improved quality of life and positive ageing for older persons and their families, including reduced physical, emotional, social and financial costs of ageing-related neurological disorders, through public dissemination of the latest research and the creation of partnerships with patients, families, community organisations and non-governmental organisations across New Zealand

·        Increased scientific, clinical, translational and leadership capability that will improve research output, patient outcomes, productivity and health industry research capacity

·        Improved Maori health and wellbeing during ageing by working with Māori communities to understand their needs and values and build equal relationships, incorporating Mātauranga into innovative research and clinical methods, and by supporting Māori to determine their own pathways to brain health through training of Māori neuroscientists and clinicians

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