News & Events
Dr Farshad Mansouri joins the Department of Physiology academic team.
Farshad Mansouri joined the Physiology Department in October 2012. He is establishing a cognitive neuroscience laboratory to continue and expand his previous studies on the structure and function of prefrontal cortex. He joined the Cognitive Brain Mapping laboratory in RIKEN Brain Science Institute (Wako, Japan) in 1997. Since 1997, Farshad and his colleagues have been investigating the neural basis of executive control and cognitive flexibility. Their findings [Journal of Neuroscience 2006; Science 2007; Science 2009 and Nature Reviews Neuroscience 2009] have shown that dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, Anterior Cingulate cortex and Orbitofrontal cortex play essential, but dissociable, roles in adapting to a changing environment. They have proposed a theoretical framework [Science 2009, Nature Reviews Neuroscience 2009] in which the cognitive flexibility and control of goal-directed behaviour are achieved through coordinated contribution of different prefrontal and medial frontal cortices.
Celebrating Physiology's golden anniversary
On 26 October, 150 past and present staff and their families gathered at the Monash Clayton campus to celebrate the Department of Physiology’s 50th Anniversary. They came to hear several Heads of Physiology reminisce about the Department’s evolution from its early days to today, and the successes and challenges they faced.
When Associate Professor Rod Westerman arrived in 1965, research and student numbers were rapidly increasing, and lecturers taught both physiology and pharmacology to undergraduates studying medicine and science.
While the state-of-the-art then was an IBM electric golf ball typewriter and documents were duplicated by roneo, the audiovisual aids department was sought after for its high-quality physiology teaching videotapes, which were used here and at the University of Melbourne for 20 years.
“My striking memory at the end of Physiology’s first decade was that of a happy and passionate group of staff and academics students, busily engaged in achieving their best both in exciting research and innovative teaching,” Associate Professor Westerman said.
Professor Robert Porter, who chaired Physiology from 1967 to 1980, also highlighted the importance of the foundation years when Physiology collaborated with several Monash departments, including Biochemistry, Electrical Engineering and Psychology.
“It forged relationships with institutes like the Baker Institute and presented opportunities for students to do Honours and postgraduate work, gaining degrees from this University and Department,” he said.
“These collaborations were central to the attitudes and approaches the Department was able to engender.”
During his time at Physiology, Professor Porter oversaw his group’s move from the top of the Biochemistry Department to a new home in Building 13F. While the new building couldn’t accommodate everyone’s aspirations, he said it had a common room for staff and was designed with flexibility in mind for both teaching and research activities. Professor Porter also emphasised that the common room was an important place for staff, students and colleagues from other departments to meet and have collegial interactions - an achievement of which he was most proud.
“We were a group of people who related to one another and enjoyed each other’s company,”he said.
“Even though we had differences in opinion, it didn’t make a difference - and we didn’t need Facebook to have such interactions!”
Professor Warwick Anderson, Head of Physiology from 1996-2006, paid tribute to the dedicated lecturers and general staff who supported the Department during his tenure when there were government cuts to university funding.
“I would like to thank the research staff who stood up to fill the gap when we couldn’t have full time academic staff,” said the CEO of NHMRC.
“We asked a lot of them.”
Moving to the future, the current Head of Physiology Professor Iain Clarke highlighted how he has actively maintained research excellence by recruiting early and mid-career staff in the areas of obesity and diabetes, neuroscience and cardiovascular disease research.
“We have also reached out to the world by sponsoring a successful symposium with the Weizmann Institute in Melbourne and next year we will visit our colleagues in Tel Aviv,” he said.
“In 2013, we will also sponsor a meeting with a European Union consortium on reproductive biology and neuroendocrinology in Prato, Italy, which will impact enormously on our department.”
Also speaking at the Jubilee event was Chancellor Dr Alan Finkel, who remembered his PhD years at Monash Electrical Engineering. He developed instruments to measure nerve function, but needed colleagues in the Department of Physiology to test them.
Professor Iain Clarke also officially launched Heaven on Earth, a set of 2 paintings donated by Hong Kong scientist, philanthropist and artist Dominic Man-Kit Lam, who attended the function. Click here to read about Dominic Man-Kit Lam and his Heaven on Earth paintings.
The celebrations ended with an informal dinner at the Notting Hill Hotel and a good time was had by all.
Article by Vicki Burkitt.
Obesity and the Metabolic Syndrome - A making connections Australia Symposium
Presented Weizmann Australia & Monash University
Obesity and metabolic disorders in the spotlight
Monash University and the Israel-based Weizmann Institute of Science co-hosted the inaugural Obesity and the Metabolic Syndrome: A making connections symposium in May at the State Library of Victoria.
During the two-day event, experts from the Weizmann Institute, Monash and other Australian universities and research institutes discussed incidence, causes, prevention and management of obesity. There were also sessions on type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke and other obesity-related disorders.
Over 100 researchers and the general public attended the symposium, which encouraged collaboration between the two countries.
It is estimated that by 2025 around 70% of Australia’s adult population will be overweight, with 34% classified as obese.
Invited speakers from Weizmann Institute, Monash University, University of Queensland,
Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute and Garvan Institute of Medical Research.
Victorian Obesity Consorium - An Evening of Talks, Dinner & Drinks
On 9 October, The Victorian Obesity Consortium held an Evening of Talks, Dinner and Drinks at Smart Artz Gallery in South Melbourne. The event was aimed at highlighting the breadth of Early Career Researcher talent in the obesity field across all of the constituent groups in the Consortium. Professor Steven Simpson, Academic Director of the Charles Perkins Centre, University of Sydney was the keynote speaker, talking around "The Nature of Nutrition: a unifying framework from animal adaptation to human obesity". Professpr Simpson was joined by 27 up and coming early career researchers who delivered both oral and poster presentations on their current research in the field.
Dr. Niwanthi W. Rajapakse received the prize for most outstanding oral presentation for her talk on "L-arginine transporters: a new treatment target in obesity induced hypertension?" and Kara Cohen winning the most outstanding poster prize for her presentation on "Adjuvant therapies to improve the efficacy of the adjustable gastric band – an animal model".
Overall the evening was a success with around 100 researchers from various research institutions attending.
Professor David Spanswick and his lab join Physiology from Warwick University, UK
Dave Spanswick graduated from University of East Anglia, UK in 1986 (B.Sc). He then obtained his PhD at University of Birmingham, studying neurophysiology. He remained in Birmingham as a Post-doctoral research fellow in Steve Logan’s group before moving to work in Canada with Leo Renaud’s group and Japan with Syogoro Nishi, Hideho Higashi, Hiroe Inokuchi and Megumu Yoshimura. He subsequently returned to the UK as a lecturer in the Department of Biomedical Sciences, University of Aberdeen before taking a sabbatical at the Department of Pharmacology, University of Cambridge and Parke-Davis. He was appointed a senior lecturer, University of Warwick in 2000 and Professor of Molecular Neuroscience at Warwick Medical School in 2004. He arrived at the Department of Physiology, Monash University in October 2011.
IRAP Lab joins the Department of Physiology
The IRAP team, comprising Peta Burns (research assistant), Siew Yeen Chai (NHMRC Senior Research Fellow), Vi Pham (postdoctoral fellow) and PhD students Holly Yeatman, Broden Morgan and Michelle Chen, joined Monash Physiology in January 2011 from the Howard Florey Institute. The research interest of the group is zinc-dependent metallopeptidases, enzymes that generate or degrade neuropeptides. Their current research is focussed on 1 particular member of this class of enzyme, insulin-regulated aminopeptidase (IRAP), which this group discovered plays an important role in memory processing - competitive inhibitors of this enzyme were found to have robust effects on facilitating memory in normal animals and reversing memory loss in rodent deficit models. They utilise a multidisciplinary approach to elucidate the roles of IRAP in the brain in normal physiological as well as in pathological conditions. This group has also embarked on a drug discovery program to develop specific, small molecular weight compounds targeting this enzyme as a new class of cognitive enhancing drugs. They recently discovered that IRAP inhibitor treatment not only restored performance in memory tasks, it also significantly reduced amyloid plaque deposition in a mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease, strengthening the case for the development of these drugs as disease modifying as well as symptomatic treatment for AD.
A/Prof Matt Watt and Dr Zane Andrews
Healthy Brain, Healthy Body
Evidence from our laboratories shows that daily physical exercise increases the production of new neurons (neurogenesis) in areas of the brain that control appetite and energy expenditure (the hypothalamus). We have also shown that neurogenesis in obese mice occurs concomitantly with a reinstatement of sensitivity to signals responsible for energy balance. These exciting findings provide the impetus to investigate the role of neurogenesis in the regulation of energy homeostasis with implications for the treatment of obesity. This research was initially funded by the Faculty of Medicine and formed the basis of a successful the NHMRC project grant in 2010.
New Professorial Recruit from the USA
The Department of Physiology has been lucky enough to have Professor Mark Sleeman from the Unites States join our team. Professor Sleeman was previously the Head of Metabolic Research at Regeneron Pharmaceuticals in Tarrytown, New York. For the past two decades he has been interested in the interplay between insulin resistance and obesity, and more specifically the molecular mechanisms behind the regulation food intake and body weight. To that end he and his colleagues have generated a large number of genetically modified animals to study these phenotypes. Recently, his research has focused on modulators of lipid metabolism and the development of fully human monoclonal antibody therapeutics for the potential treatment of metabolic disease. Mark Sleeman was a recipient of a Juveniles Diabetes and Ruth Kirschstein Endocrine Fellowship at the University of Massachusetts in the laboratory of Dr Michael P. Czech where he studied mechanisms insulin-resistance/signaling. Dr Sleeman received his Ph.D. from Monash University and has published numerous papers on Type 2 Diabetes and Obesity in journals such as Nature Medicine, Nature Genetics, PNAS, Journal of Biological Chemistry and Diabetes and is a member of numerous professional societies in USA and Australia.
Exciting New Developments from The Monash Vision Group
The Monash Vision Group http://www.monash.edu.au/bioniceye/ is developing a brain implant that could return sight to up to 80% of clinically blind people, including patients affected by the three most common untreatable causes of blindness in Australia: diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma and macular degeneration. In many cases, these diseases eventually lead to degradation of the retina, meaning that they cannot be treated by retinally-based prostheses. The Monash Vision direct-to-brain bionic eye will convert a video signal into a pattern of electrical stimulation that can be delivered directly to the visual cortex, thus it will help people with acquired retinal diseases and those with damage to the optic nerve or eye. As no eye surgery is involved, the system is able to supplement, without degrading, any existing sight.
The group is funded by a Special Research Initiative scheme through the Australian Research Council http://www.arc.gov.au/ncgp/sri/bionic_eye.htm and involves researchers from across Monash University, the Alfred Hospital and industry partners Grey Innovation http://www.greyinnovation.com/ and MiniFAB http://www.minifab.com.au/].
Preclinical testing and development of the prosthesis is primarily being conducted in the Department of Physiology under the direction of Professor Marcello Rosa, Associated Professor Ramesh Rajan and Dr Nicholas Price. This testing will determine the best materials for a safe and long-lasting implant as well as the optimal electrical stimulation parameters for recreating a visual stimulus with high spatial and temporal resolution. This will help develop an implant that provides sufficient vision to perform everyday visually-guided activities such as recognising people, reading and navigating the world.
For more information, please direction enquiries to the Monash Vision Group http://www.monash.edu.au/bioniceye/contact.html]