A new research project from The University of Notre Dame Australia and the Perron Institute for Neurological and Translational Science is being conducted by Research Fellow Dr Samantha Winter and aims to enhance the understanding and development of therapeutic agents for neurodegenerative diseases through pre-clinical studies. This project was funded as part of Notre Dame’s Industry-linked Early Career Research Fellowship Scheme.
850,000 Australians live with neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). These diseases cause cells in the brain to gradually lose functionality and eventually die. Though management processes for physical and mental symptoms do exist, there is currently no cure.
“As our population ages we have more and more people in society who are suffering and the burden on the healthcare industry is just getting worse and worse,” Dr Winter says.
What makes research like this so important is that we don't have proper treatments for most of the neurodegenerative diseases. Some have no treatments at all.
Dr Winter grew up in Perth and completed her bachelor’s degree at Murdoch University before undertaking an Honours year at the Telethon Kids Institute. Following this, she took up a PhD at Goethe University Frankfurt in Germany.
“My studies were with Professor Andreas Krueger,” Dr Winter says, “looking into the development of all different T Lymphocytes and the involvement of microRNA.”
Now back in Perth, Dr Winter has been appointed Research Fellow at Notre Dame and has started working at the Perron Institute, an affiliate medical research institute, on the exciting next step of her research career. Dr Winter is part of the Neurodegenerative Diseases Research group, led by Dr Ryan Anderton, a Senior Lecturer at Notre Dame.
“We’re trying to better understand the link between your gut, your immune system and your brain, and see if all these systems are involved in neurological disease,” she says, “I’m also looking at trying to establish some unique preclinical models to explore how these systems work together.”
Recent findings from a study that analysed the gut microbiome from patients with and without Parkinson’s disease showed a drastic difference between the two. This difference could be indicative of a potential link between gut health and neurodegenerative conditions.
By developing cellular models, Dr Winter will be able to better test the effects of certain drugs and actions on neurodegenerative-diseased neurons and potentially find more effective treatments for patients.
Due to the methodology required for this research, the project is taking a holistic, interdisciplinary approach.
“Neuroscientists have traditionally worked on neuroscience, and immunologists traditionally worked on immunology,” Dr Winter says, “but this topic involves so many systems we need to have people that understand the different fields.
It’s how science will best progress.
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