General Neurosurgical research

Neurosurgical and neurological research is used to treat and save the lives of children and adults living with life threatening medical conditions. Donations allow the funding of world class medical research into the cause, diagnosis, prevention and treatment of disease and injury of the brain, spine and nervous system.

Key Areas of Research

Neuroscience researchers are looking for ways to improve treatments which can save lives of children and adults living with these neurosurgical and neurological conditions.

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  • Brain tumours: improving treatments
  • Stroke, brain haemorrhage and aneurysms: developing surgical treatments
  • Paediatric research: identifying trends leading to improving treatment outcomes
  • Spinal cord injury: as a result of sporting or car accidents
  • Traumatic brain injury: how to halt life threatening brain swelling
  • Neurodegeneration:

Parkinson's disease: understanding and slowing down the progression of this condition

Concussion: how to stop the neurodegeneration in head trauma caused by concussion

Click here to donate to General Neurosurgical Research.

Brain Tumour Research

Much of the death and disability of tumours is attributable to their ability to spread and invade the brain leading to devastating consequences such as brain swelling. Brain cancer kills more adults under 40 than any other cancer, kills more children than any other disease, and takes one life about every seven hours in Australia.

Aims of current Brain Tumour Research include:

  • Decrease brain swelling to improve quality of life
  • Reduce invasiveness to enhance surgical treatments
  • Impede tumour growth to prolong survival.

Click here to donate to Brain Tumour Research.

Investigating the role of 14-3-3ζ in medulloblastoma, childhood brain cancer

Medulloblastoma arises from abnormal growth of cerebellar granule cells and is the leading cause of cancer-associated death in children. There is a desperate need to understand the molecular defects underlying this malignancy so that new therapies can be devised. Our unpublished work demonstrates that the scaffolding protein 14-3-3 is a key regulator of the sonic hedgehog signalling pathway which is thought to drive the growth of cerebellar granule cells, and medulloblastoma. We now plan to test if removal of 14-3-3 will reduce the burden of medulloblastoma in cell models of this disease.

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Dr Quenten Schwartz, PhD

The University of South Australia

The establishment of a comprehensive database management system for the South Australian Neurological Tumour Bank.

The SA Neurological Tumour Bank (SANTB) is a not-for-profit resource established to collect and bank blood and neurological tumour tissue from patients undergoing surgery to diagnose or remove their tumour. These specimens are available to researchers in SA and interstate to facilitate research projects into neurological cancer. NRF funds will help to establish and maintain a secure, customizable, web-based database management system to capture and link accurate, reliable and standardized patient clinical data (eg. pathology, treatment, survival) to each specimen. Obtaining comprehensive clinical data is extremely important to maximize the research value of each tumour collected in the drive to improve the outcome of patients with neurological cancer.

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Dr Rebecca Ormsby BSc (Hons), PhD Coordinator, SA Neurological Tumour Bank

And Coordinator, SA Brain Bank at the Centre for Neuroscience (Human Physiology)

Flinders University

Centre for Cancer Biology University of South Australia and SA Pathology

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Prof Stuart Pitson: NHMRC Senior Research Fellow Head, Molecular Signalling Laboratory

Dr Melinda Tea: Brain Tumour Researcher

Dr Jason Powell: Brain Tumour Researcher

Tissue dissociator

The gentle MACS tissue dissociator allows for the gentle break-down of brain tumour tissue into individual brain tumour cells, that can then be studied in the laboratory. It allows the isolation and study of brain tumour stem cells, which are only a very minor component of the total tumour mass, but are usually the main reason for tumour regrowth after therapy.

Stereotactic alignment and injection system

This advanced computer-aided stereotactic alignment and injection system enables the accurate implantation of human brain tumour cells directly into the correct tissue environment. These implanted cells form tumours providing the gold standard model for both studying brain tumour biology and assessing new potential therapies. This advanced system will allow us to develop a powerful resource for brain tumour research in SA that will allow the evaluation of our novel anti-tumour agents and provide the ideal system for evaluation of any potential new anti-brain tumour drugs developed in other laboratories around Australia and internationally.

Click here to donate to Brain Tumour Research.


Stroke Research

Over 72,000 Australians suffer a stroke each year, 2/3 of which are left dead or disabled as a result.

Click here to donate to Stroke Research.

Stroke Research:

The stroke research team, led by Dr Renée Turner, is using novel, pre-clinical models to map the development of brain swelling and changes in brain pressure following stroke in order to develop targeted and more effective treatments to reduce the devastating morbidity and mortality associated with these conditions.

Annabel Sorby-Adams research is looking at that brain swelling and increased brain pressure which are the leading causes of death and disability in the first week following stroke. Annabel’s investigations will examine the effect of a treatment, the NK1 tachykinin receptor antagonist and whether it can prevent the development of brain swelling and life threatening elevations in brain pressure.

Click here to donate to Stroke Research.


Paediatric Neurosurgical Research

Click here to donate to The Paediatric Appeal.

Medical research for children requires special techniques because a child's brain is not fully developed. There is potential for regrowth, development, and self-healing. We need you to partner with us in our mission to fund Paediatric Neurosurgical Research into the treatment of brain and spinal diseases and injury in children. Neurosurgical research is resulting in more lives saved and better patient recovery.

Concussion Research:

Developing imaging biomarkers that predict pre-frontal cortex deficits following concussive insults in adolescence

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is common during childhood and adolescence, with most injuries classified as mild (concussions), but these can still have long-lasting consequences. Indeed, the paediatric population take longer to recover from concussive insults than adults and report higher rates of impulsivity, attention deficits and cognitive impairment post-injury. This longer recovery may relate to ongoing brain development in this population. In particular the pre-frontal cortex which continues to mature into early adulthood is important for the development of executive functions which control judgement, planning, impulsivity, and working memory. As such the age of onset of a concussion may interrupt the normal maturation processes within this region leading to ongoing impairment of executive functions. This project aims to investigate whether the age at which a concussive impact occurs can have differential effects on the development of the pre-frontal cortex. This will be through examination of effects on executive function in adulthood- by examining impulsivity, working memory and judgement and linking this to changes in the key neurotransmitter systems within this region of the brain. Importantly this will be linked to magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) measures that will identify whether there are any signature alterations that can be linked to persistent behavioural changes.

Chief Investigator Team:

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Dr. Lyndsey Collins-Praino

Senior Lecturer, Discipline of Anatomy and Pathology, University of Adelaide

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Dr Frances Corrigan

Senior Lecturer, Division of Health Sciences, University of South Australia

Designing and validating an apparatus to induce concussive injury in a pre-clinical paediatric model

Despite evidence to suggest that children and adolescents take longer to recover from a concussion and may be more vulnerable to long-term detrimental effects, the majority of concussion research has focused on adults. Little is understood about the scaling of these parameters required for paediatric pre-clinical models. The aim of this research program is to develop a new apparatus to impart a mechanically relevant concussive brain injury mechanism, which can be scaled for age, in a pre-clinical model.

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Dr Claire Jones

Spinal Research Group & Centre for Orthopaedic and Trauma Research, Adelaide Medical School, NHMRC Early Career Research Fellow; Adjunct Lecturer, School of Mechanical Engineering, University of Adelaide

Discovering targets for immunotherapy of aggressive childhood cancers

Our team is focussed on developing new therapies for brain cancer, based on a revolutionary new approach known as CAR-T cell therapy. This technique has already shown remarkable success in treating some forms of leukaemia. It involves collecting ‘killer’ T cells from a cancer patient’s own blood, and using genetic engineering techniques to make them specifically latch onto, and then kill, cancer cells. We are currently developing and testing CAR-T cells which specifically recognise brain cancer cells, and – with the support of organisations such as the NRF – hope to progress this work toward patient clinical trials within the next 5 years.

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Dr Lisa Ebert BSc, PhD

The University of South Australia

Click here to donate to The Paediatric Appeal.


Traumatic Brain and Spinal Cord Injury Research

Traumatic Brain injury (TBI) is the leading cause of disability and death worldwide and is associated with significant impairment in brain function, impacting cognitive, emotional, behavioural and physical functioning. It is estimated that as many as 54-60 million people worldwide suffer from a TBI each year. While the acute effects of TBI are well characterized, a significant number of people affected by TBI develop long-lasting neuropsychiatric and cognitive impairments. TBI is also a significant risk factor for later development of dementia and Parkinson’s disease, although the brain mechanisms behind this association are still poorly understood.

Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) leaves patients disabled and dependent for basic daily activities. There are currently no effective treatments available for SCI and novel therapies are urgently required to reduce such devastating disability.

Click here to donate to the Traumatic Brain Injury Research Appeal

Traumatic Brain Injury Research:

Characterising gut alterations following traumatic brain injury

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is the leading cause of death in individuals under the age of 45 years and survivors are often left with long-term disability. In particular, patients with post-TBI gastrointestinal dysfunction have increased morbidity and longer periods of hospitalization. Therefore, treatment modalities targeting prevention of gastrointestinal dysfunction have important clinical implications. In the current study we will characterise both the time course and nature of gastrointestinal disturbances following trauma. As such, this study will evaluate the extent of gastrointestinal disturbances, including gut injury, increased permeability and alterations in inflammatory mediators, that occur following moderate traumatic brain injury. This may lead to the identification of novel therapeutic targets to reduce gastrointestinal complications and improve TBI patient quality of life.

Chief Investigator Team:

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Assoc Prof Stuart Brierley

Mathew flinders Fellow in Gastrointestinal Neuroscience Flinders University

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Assoc Professor Renee Turner

NRF Director of Neurosurgical Research University of Adelaide

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Rebecca Dowden

Masters Student

Developing TMS-EEG indices of functional and physiological deficit following mild traumatic brain injury

Mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) is one of the most common forms of acquired brain injury, affecting millions of people around the world every year. Although once considered a short-lived injury, the potential long-term side effects of mTBI are now being increasingly recognised. Despite this, the physiological mechanisms contributing to these deficits are largely unknown, placing considerable limitations on how mTBIs are handled clinically. Using advanced neuroimaging techniques, my work aims to better understand how mTBI changes the brain, and how these changes result in ongoing functional deficits. This will allow us to develop markers of injury that can be used to track recovery from mTBI, and may eventually facilitate the design of interventions to reduce the burden of ongoing symptoms.

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Dr George Opie PhD

NHMRC Early Career Fellow, Discipline of Physiology, The University of Adelaide

Does TLR4 activation mediate the relationship between TBI and Parkinson's Disease

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is the second most common neurodegenerative disease after Alzheimer’s disease, affecting 10 million people worldwide and 1 in every 350 Australians. While the exact causes of PD are currently unknown, one risk factor is traumatic brain injury. Despite growing awareness of the link between TBI and PD, however, brain mechanisms that account for this relationship are unknown. One potential mechanism may be neuroinflammation. A potent inducer of neuroinflammation is activation of Toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4), a pattern recognition receptor broadly expressed in the central nervous system. The current study will investigate whether the development of neuroinflammation and PD-like pathology following TBI is mediated by TLR4 activation. This has the potential to shed light on the mechanism by which a major risk factor for PD may lead to disease, and may help to identify novel therapeutic targets.

While the acute effects of traumatic brain injury (TBI) are well-known, a number of individuals affected by TBI also develop chronic problems such as depression and cognitive impairment. Although the brain mechanisms of these impairments are currently unclear, persistent inflammation in the brain may play a key role.

Our current NRF-funded research projects investigate whether reducing brain inflammation immediately after injury can improve long-term outcomes in an experimental model of TBI. This work may have important consequences for the prevention of neurodegenerative diseases, such as dementia.

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Dr Lyndsey Collins-Praino

Lecturer in Anatomy & Pathology, Adelaide Medical School, The University of Adelaide

Spinal Cord Injury Research:

Investigating the relationship between neuroinflammation and the development of cognitive deficits following traumatic spinal cord injury: Can Fyn kinase inhibition break the link?

Spinal cord injury is commonly thought of as a disorder of paralysis, however, there is emerging evidence to suggest that an injury to the spinal cord can also affect the brain, initiating an inflammatory response resulting in cognitive deficits. Our research is focused on investigating the neuroinflammatory response within the brain following traumatic spinal cord injury and how this may lead to cognitive decline. Additionally, we are interested in how location may affect these results, specifically whether a higher (cervical) or lower (thoracic) injury causes greater cognitive decline. Our final aim is to determine whether inhibition of the neuroinflammatory response will improve cognition providing a potential treatment for SCI individuals against cognitive decline.

Dr Anna Leonard’ research is targeting raised pressure within the spinal cord after a traumatic spinal cord injury. Future studies will focus on increasing the space in which the spinal cord exists to accommodate for its increased volume due to swelling. This will alleviate the subsequent pressure increase, promoting tissue survival and reducing functional deficits.

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Dr Anna Leonard

Lecturer in Anatomy & Pathology, Adelaide Medical School, The University of Adelaide

Another exciting area of research was undertaken by Stephanie Plummer who investigted peptide derived from the amyloid precursor protein(app), as a novel therapeutic agent against traumatic brain injury.

Dr Lindsey Collins-Piarino speaks further about her research.

Click here to donate to the Traumatic Brain Injury Research Appeal


Neurodegeneration Research

Neurodegenerative diseases are diseases associated with both the abnormal build-up of toxic aggregates of protein and the death of neurons (brain cells) in particular areas of the brain. This class of diseases includes multiple conditions, but the two most common are dementia and Parkinson’s disease (PD).

Dementia is the second leading cause of death in Australia. There are more than 413,106 Australians living with dementia, with one new case diagnosed every 6 minutes. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, affecting up to 70% of all people with dementia. Without a medical breakthrough soon, the number of Australian with dementia is expected to soar to more than 900,000 by 2050.

Parkinson’s disease is also a significant issue, both here in Australia and throughout the world. There are currently 8-10 million cases of PD worldwide. In Australia alone, there are more than 70,000 cases, with PD affecting 1 in every 340 Australians. Given our rapidly ageing population, this number is expected to double by 2030. PD currently costs the Australian economy more than $1.1 billion each year!

Currently, there are no treatments to stop the progression of neurodegenerative diseases, with available options only providing some relief from the symptoms of these conditions. Before a cure can be developed, it is critical that we understand more about the factors that can lead to the development of neurodegeneration.

Click here to donate to the Neurodegeneration Research Appeal

Neurodegenerative Disease Research:

The role of pericytes in delayed post-stroke neurodegeneration

Stroke is a leading cause of death, disability and dementia worldwide. However, loss of brain tissue distal to the primary stroke site, can occur months to years following stroke, increasing patient disability. This process is called secondary neurodegeneration and the underlying mechanisms of this delayed neuronal loss remain poorly understood. Pericytes are known to be involved in the early injury pathways following stroke; however, they may also contribute to delayed neurodegeneration given their roles in maintaining blood-brain barrier structure, transport, controlling blood flow, driving new cell growth and formation of new blood vessels. Despite this, no studies have investigated the contribution of pericyte changes to secondary neurodegeneration post-stroke. Accordingly, this study seeks to further understand what drives secondary neurodegeneration and whether pericytes are key contributors to post-stroke neurodegeneration. Specifically, we will examine the course of pericyte changes following stroke and determine alterations in key neurodegenerative and neuroinflammatory markers

Chief Investigator Team:

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Assoc Professor Renee Turner

NRF Director of Neurosurgical Research University of Adelaide

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Dr. Lyndsey Collins-Praino

Senior Lecturer, Discipline of Anatomy and Pathology, University of Adelaide

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Isabella Bilecki

PhD Student

Does TLR4 activation mediate the relationship between TBI and Parkinson's Disease

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is the second most common neurodegenerative disease after Alzheimer’s disease, affecting 10 million people worldwide and 1 in every 350 Australians. While the exact causes of PD are currently unknown, one risk factor is traumatic brain injury. Despite growing awareness of the link between TBI and PD, however, brain mechanisms that account for this relationship are unknown. One potential mechanism may be neuroinflammation. A potent inducer of neuroinflammation is activation of Toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4), a pattern recognition receptor broadly expressed in the central nervous system. The current study will investigate whether the development of neuroinflammation and PD-like pathology following TBI is mediated by TLR4 activation. This has the potential to shed light on the mechanism by which a major risk factor for PD may lead to disease, and may help to identify novel therapeutic targets.

Dr Lyndsey Collins-Praino, previously investigated how brain inflammation changes over time, and whether this is associated with brain changes characteristic of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. One major risk factor for these diseases is traumatic brain injury (TBI). While it is not yet clear how TBI can lead to the brain changes seen in PD, often decades after the original injury, TBI is known to be associated with the induction of significant inflammation in the brain. This may set the stage for the later emergence of neurodegenerative disease. This raises the exciting possibility that targeting inflammation after injury may help to reduce the incidence of these conditions, at least in a subset of the population.

Dr Collins-Praino is also focused on understanding the brain mechanisms that underlie cognitive impairments, such as memory problems and difficulties with planning and paying attention, in these conditions.

Neurodegeneration Concussion Research:

The role of alcohol in promoting the development of neurodegeneration following a repeated concussion

A history of repeated concussions has been linked to three times higher risk of developing a neurodegenerative disease, to which there are currently no effective treatments. How repeated concussion promotes neurodegeneration, and what role alcohol abuse plays in that process, is poorly understood, making it difficult to intervene in the disease process. Work is ongoing to characterize the effects of chronic alcohol exposure on pathological changes following repeated concussion and determine whether this leads to long-term changes in behaviour, particularly cognition, depressive-like behaviour, and anxiety. This is particularly important given the accepted usage of alcohol within the community and the lack of understanding of what constitutes a safe level of alcohol consumption following a mild traumatic brain injury.

An especially common injury in contact sports such as football, chronic traumatic encephalopathy is a neurodegenerative disease, which appears to be exclusively related to repeated concussion.

Dr Francis Corrigan Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) is a neurodegenerative disease which appears to be exclusively related to repeated concussion. This research considers the mechanisms by which systemic inflammation accelerates the disease process, leading to neuronal cell death.

Dr Francis Corrigan’s research examines how concussion – particularly repeated concussion – may increase the risk of developing cognitive deficits later in life. Previous research has suggested that levels of substance P (SP) are higher in adolescents and thus they may have a greater inflammatory response to a concussive insult than an adult. We will be investigating whether blockade of this inflammatory response – by preventing the actions of SP – will prevent the development of cognitive deficits following concussion in adolescence.

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Dr Frances Corrigan

Senior Lecturer in Anatomy, School of Health Sciences, University of South Australia

Click here to donate to the Neurodegeneration Research Appeal


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