HIV can hide out in the brain, protected from the immune system and antiviral drugs, Dr Lachlan Gray and his colleagues at Monash University and the Burnet Institute have found. [click to continue…]

Melbourne scientists have developed an injectable material that encourages nerves in the brain and spinal cord to regrow. Their work could lead to new ways of treating nerve-based injuries or conditions such as Parkinson’s disease and Huntington’s disease. [click to continue…]

Electrical communication in the brain works not only like a digital computer, but also like analogue tape. How this occurs has been unravelled by researchers at The Australian National University’s John Curtin School of Medical Research.

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A research team at the University of Adelaide has found a way to reduce brain swelling, the most common cause of death after stroke. [click to continue…]

Fish make omega-3 from noxious weed

Australian scientists have found that fish fed oil extracted from one of Australia’s most damaging noxious weeds, Patterson’s curse, produce health-giving omega-3 oils for human consumption. [click to continue…]

A young Sydney researcher hopes to develop a way to diagnose and monitor diseases by analysing how the brain responds to colour.

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A young Adelaide engineer has developed a simulator to help health professionals learn how to properly perform the common ‘pen torch’ examination of the eyes – an essential test for signs of brain dysfunction.

The simulator, known as EyeSim and designed by Timothy Nelson of Flinders University, will allow trainees to practise without distress to real patients – in the same way that pilots practise using flight simulators.

“Although the “pen torch” test is one of the most common clinical examinations, the procedure involves complex interpretation of what can be very subtle symptoms,” Tim says.

“Hospitals presently pay upwards of $250,000 for a high tech manikin, which will simulate all sorts of human functions, but the eyes are fixed and completely non-responsive to light,” says Tim.

“The current teaching method relies on using textbooks, in conjunction with practice on human patients.”

“EyeSim offers the advantages of a realistic constriction and dilation of the pupils, and the ability of the eyes to follow a moving object when illuminated with a pen torch.”

“EyeSim will allow educators to vary the complexity of a situation to suit the level of a given student. The instant feedback and repeatability of simulation has been shown to improve the standard of learning that students achieve.”

EyeSim is now being further developed with a view to commercialisation and hopefully inclusion in healthcare curricula worldwide.

Tim is one of 13 Fresh Scientists presenting their research to the public for the first time thanks to Fresh Science, a national program hosted by the State Library of Victoria and supported by the Federal and Victorian governments, British Council and New Scientist.

One of the Fresh Scientists will win a trip to the UK courtesy of the British Council to present his or her work to the Royal Institution.

Tim conducting the torch eye test on Eye-Sim.
Timothy Nelson, creator of Eye-Sim, the eye-test simulator going eye-to-eye.

Researchers in Adelaide have found that a commercially available dietary supplement can improve the attention and behaviour of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

The parents of children who spent 15 weeks on a course of capsules containing a combination of fish oil and primrose oil with a high ratio of omega-3 fatty acid EPA reported increased attention and reduced hyperactivity, restlessness and impulsivity, says Natalie Sinn from the University of South Australia and CSIRO Nutrition. The same improvements were not reported from children who took a placebo.

The work involved about 145 children with ADHD-related problems. A parallel study in the UK using the same supplement has shown similar results.

In addition, in the Australian trial, children taking the fish oil supplement also did better on tests of attention, and improved their vocabulary.

“Fish oil is believed to work via effects on brain function,” Sinn says. “Sixty per cent of the brain is composed of fats, the most important being polyunsaturated omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. These fats must be obtained through diet, such as dark leafy vegetables, walnuts, linseeds, and oily fish.

“There is now a growing body of research to suggest that some children with developmental problems, including ADHD and dyslexia, can benefit from taking omega-3 supplements. And no adverse effects have been reported to date.”

Natalie is one of 13 Fresh Scientists presenting their research to the public for the first time thanks to Fresh Science, a national program hosted by the State Library of Victoria. One of the Fresh Scientists will win a trip to the UK courtesy of the British Council to present his or her work to the Royal Institution.

Adelaide research shows way to pain prediction test

There’s a global pain epidemic, despite the availability of various drug and non-drug treatments. A breakthrough by Australian researchers may lead to a new era of pain control.

“We still don’t fully understand pain,” says Mark Hutchinson from the University of Adelaide. He has discovered a strong link between our immune system and how we feel pain. His results, published this month in the journal Pain, could revolutionise the prevention and control of pain.

“The brain and nerves were traditionally thought to control pain signalling. While neurons are vital to pain, our experience with pain medications led us to investigate what role the immune system might play in pain,” Mr Hutchinson says.

“85% of the cells in the brain are immune-like cells and I had an idea these cells might be involved in pain control.”

Mr Hutchinson’s research led to the discovery of a simple blood test that uses morphine to produce a response in the collected immune cells which can be used to predict pain tolerance.

“A simple blood test is much easier than asking for a brain tissue sample.”

“While the science behind the blood test remains a mystery to us, we believe it is possible our test reflects the activity of brain immune cells.  We appear to have stumbled across a biological pain dimmer switch that is controlled by the immune system.”

The finding may lead to the development of new pain treatments targeting both the immune system and the brain.

Pain and the associated suffering, is a global health problem, costing society in excess of A$12billion per annum in Australia and US$100billion in USA.

“Our discovery will initially accelerate pain research focussing on the way the immune system controls pain. Subsequent research will then be required to further develop the pain blood test and new pain medications,” Mr Hutchinson says.

“This research has opened a window into the brain, which will enable us to significantly expand our understanding of how we feel pain and why some people feel pain more. Furthermore, our findings may help to explain the variable response people have to the available pain medications and treatments,” Mr Hutchinson says.

“We have to thank our volunteers who altruistically participated in our studies and put themselves through several very painful close encounters with very very cold water during the pain tests.”

Scientists have discovered the ability of a protein which helps the brain heal itself.

This has established a promising direction for research, ultimately leading to possible clinical treatments for brain-related injuries including strokes, car accidents and spinal damage. [click to continue…]

An Australian drug that has the potential to treat stroke survivors is under development in the UK by a UK-based biotechnology company DevCo. 

The drug, known as AM-36, can minimise brain damage and physical impairments caused by strokes – Australia’s leading cause of disability. Dr Jenny Callaway and her colleagues at Monash University discovered  the new drug in collaboration with Melbourne-based biotechnology company AMRAD who have licenced the drug to DevCo. [click to continue…]


A  Melbourne scientist has discovered the gene that causes de Morsier syndrome, a severe disorder in which babies are born with underdeveloped brains, eyes and pituitary glands.  

Dr. Paul Thomas from the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute has shown that children with this syndrome have a critical change in the Hesx1 gene which causes a malfunction during brain formation.  [click to continue…]

New research is showing that the brain of schizophrenia sufferers changes during the onset of the illness not only just before or during birth as was previously thought.

Researchers from the Mental Health Research Institute (MHRI), the University of Melbourne, and the Mental Health Service for Youth and Kids (MHSKY) believe that these findings could lead to the development of treatments that could prevent or reverse these brain changes. [click to continue…]

Speedy thought may mean better memory for older adults – Janet Bryan.

Janet’s research is showing that the faster one thinks, the better one’s memory. [click to continue…]