Tallest of the tall poppies
University of Adelaide neuroscientist Dr Gabrielle Todd has been named the South Australian Young Tall Poppy of the Year.
Dr Todd was selected from a field of eight young South Australians who were all named Young Tall Poppies of Science for 2010-2011 for their outstanding contributions to scientific research. Among those were two other researchers from the University of Adelaide: Associate Professor Leonie Heilbronn and Dr Mark Hutchinson.
Dr Todd, who is based in the University's School of Medical Sciences, is investigating how the brain controls movement and the pathological changes that lead to disorders such as Parkinson's disease, an incurable neurodegenerative disease.
"The movement problems characteristic of Parkinson's disease result from the death of specific brain cells," Dr Todd said.
"It is curious however that these cells can die up to 10 years before any signs of the disease. This suggests that the brain can effectively compensate for their loss in the very early stages of Parkinson's."
Dr Todd is looking at novel approaches to reduce movement dysfunction, lessening the burden of this disease on patients and their carers.
Associate Professor Heilbronn, who is a member of the University's Robinson Institute, is looking at the link between obesity and metabolic diseases such as Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
"Considering that 60% of Australians are overweight or obese, with children now adding to those statistics, this research is critical," Associate Professor Heilbronn said.
"For the first time in history, the next generation may not live as long as the preceding generation due to obesity and related chronic illnesses," she said.
Dr Hutchinson is investigating the role of immune brain cells, known as glia, in causing chronic pain, drug addiction and epilepsy.
His research has resulted in a major shift in the understanding of how these diseases are created.
"By targeting glia, rather than just the brain's wiring, we are developing more effective treatment options to control glia and prevent these chronic conditions, which affect millions of people around the world," said Dr Hutchinson, who is also in the School of Medical Sciences.