Young Aussie researchers meeting Nobel laureates

(Transcript from World News Radio)

Dr Sarah Lockie is a metabolic research scientist at Monash University.


She’s also one of 15 young Australian scientists selected to attend the Lindau Nobel Laureates conference in Germany, which allows young researchers to meet with Nobel winning scientists in their chosen fields of research.

Peggy Giakoumelos reports.

(Click on the audio tab above to hear the full report)

Dr Sarah Lockie’s work looks at how the neurocircuitry of the brain is affected by dieting and fasting.

She says the growing field of neuroscience is changing the way researchers think about many disorders and she hopes her research will provide the basis for more targeted drug treatments to deal with conditions such as obesity and anorexia.

“The brain is the master controller of metabolism. We think that hunger comes from the stomach, but really it comes from the brain. I am interested in that co-ordinated process, between sensing on one side, and physiological outcome on the other. How does manage to keep that balance so accurately?”

Dr Sarah Lockie is one of 15 young researchers selected to attend the Lindau Nobel Laureates Meeting in Germany.

The meetings, which have been held annually in Germany since 1951, give younger generations of scientists the opportunity to meet with Nobel winners in medicine, physics, chemistry and physiology.

Another of those attending is the University of Queensland’s Michael Bergin.

He’s been looking at how the nervous system might change the way it functions to avoid feelings of physical pain that may result from various health conditions.

But the road to a career in science hasn’t been easy for Michael Bergin.

At high school he desperately wanted to study physics but was told by the head of his school’s Science Department that his exam results indicated he should study another subject.

Michael Bergin ignored this advice and decided to persevere with his love of physics.

“I suppose a personal belief that I was good enough, also my parents put a lot of faith in me and thought I would be able to handle it and also I really wanted to study physiotherapy at university and one of the subjects that they highly recommended doing at school was physics and I figured that I could either learn to do physics during my physiotherapy degree or I could persevere with it in high school which I did ultimately.”

Originally from a small farming community in Canada, Rae-Anne Hardie eventually made her way to Australia where she established a career as a science researcher.

She’s looking forward to attending the meeting in Germany to share ideas with some of the world’s top thinkers in the field of cancer research – her current area of focus.

Now a research officer with the Centenary Institute, Rae-Anne Hardie has looked at topics including HIV in Africa and the genomes of the Tasmanian devil.

She’s now focused on genome evolution and cancer metabolism.

“I’ve used this research in pancreatic cancer and looking at the metabolism and the genetic changes that result in pancreatic cancer. When you look at the normal tissues in the body and how we can target those differences with specific drugs and therapies which may already be available for other metabolic diseases such as diabetes, obesity and things like that. And now I am applying the same knowledge to prostate cancer.”

One of those representing Australia in the field of mental health research is Rebecca Segrave, a Clinical Neuropsychologist and Research Fellow at the Monash Alfred Psychiatry Research Centre in Melbourne.

Her research focuses on non-invasive brain stimulation to assist people suffering from depression that hasn’t responded to medication or behavioural therapies.

She says advances in neuroscience and neuro-imaging mean that researchers are now able to see which areas of the brain are directly affected by depression, and are therefore able to target those areas with non-invasive brain stimulation.

“We focus on an area on the surface at the front of the brain that’s very very commonly found to be under active when people are depressed and we now know that when people are depressed, there are changes in lots of different brain regions. So some of them are more active, some of them are less active and they’re all connected in a network. So we focus on an area that’s often underactive and it’s a really important area for controlling our emotions, and also a important area for controlling our thoughts. So by increasing activity in that particular area. we’re trying to help people get better emotional control and better control of those negative thoughts that can go round and round in their mind. And because everything in the brain is so interconnected by changing activity in that one critical node of the network, there are then flow-on effects through the rest of the nodes in that depression brain network.”

Fifteen young Australians are among 600 young scientists given the opportunity to discuss the latest research in global health with the Nobel Laureates.