Sparking support for St Vincent’s “Brains Trust”


Regardless of our attempts to stay healthy throughout life, once we reach the age of 65, we all have an increased chance of being affected by neurodegenerative diseases caused by cell death in the brain. Brain tumours and brain cancer are, unfortunately, also increasing in frequency in our community.

With 15% of our population already over the age of 65, St Vincent’s neurologists, neurosurgeons and clinician researchers are focusing their efforts on ensuring the best possible research-driven care and treatments are available to our patients.

Philanthropic support will be key to enabling the innovative clinical treatment and research programs being headed up by our St Vincent’s Brains Trust, a team of leading clinicians that includes Professor Bruce Brew AM, A/Professor Stephen Tisch, A/Professor Susan Tomlinson, Dr Mark Winder, Professor David Burke and many of their colleagues. Their work spans a range of initiatives across Alzheimer’s, Dementia, Parkinson’s, Movement Disorders, Neuromuscular Disorders, Chronic Headaches and Migraine, Minimally and Non-Invasive Neurosurgery, Endoscopic Pituitary Surgery and Older People’s Mental Health.

Brain repair to fight Alzheimer’s and dementia

Professor Bruce Brew AM, Head of the Neurosciences Program, Director of the Peter Duncan Neurosciences Research Unit at the St Vincent’s Centre for Applied Medical Research (AMR), was recognised for his significant service to medicine in 2015 for clinical and laboratory research. His research is focussed on brain repair and developing new therapies that enhance the regenerative capacity of neural stem cells to fight debilitating diseases of the brain.

Professor Bruce Brew AM receiving his Order of Australia honour in June 2015 with former Governor of NSW, H.E General the Hon David Hurley AC DSC (Retd), Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia

Another important project that has been underway within the Peter Duncan Neurosciences Research Unit for a number of years uses small organoid brain models to help researchers understand neurological connections. These miniature brain models, generated from adult stem cells, are helping St Vincent’s researchers to study the electronic impulses and connections in the brain and understand the mechanics of neurodegenerative diseases. It has already led to ground-breaking findings, identifying the process through which toxic molecules are produced as a result of certain types of Multiple Sclerosis, leading to neuron dysfunction as the disease progresses. This finding may make it possible to develop drugs that mitigate the effects of toxic molecules and stem the progress of this debilitating disorder of the central nervous system.

Much of Professor Brew’s work to date has been supported through a generous gift from philanthropist Peter Duncan AM in 2012, in conjunction with a 10 year philanthropic commitment of the late Max Dunbier OAM and the Dunbier Family and the corporate contributions of PIRTEK. We are grateful for their ongoing support. Additional support for Research Fellowships to enable the ongoing work of the Unit is now a priority.

A recent grant from the Ian Potter Foundation has also provided part-funding for the purchase of a new, high powered Leica “Thunder Microscope” at the St Vincent’s Centre for Applied Medical Research to enhance the study of neural cells essential to our Brains Trust research programs. Further funding will enable the team to purchase additional equipment to fully leverage the imaging power of the Microscope.

Australian first in treating movement disorders

St Vincent’s Hospital Sydney has the first $6 million MRI-guided Focus Ultrasound (MRgFUS) in Australia, which provides non-invasive treatment for patients suffering from Movement Disorders such as Essential Tremor, Dystonic tremor and Parkinson’s tremor. The acquisition of this ultrasound was enabled by the fundraising efforts of the SIRENS group led by Sister Jacinta Fong rsc and the clinical team of Neuroradiologist Dr Yael Barnett, Neurologist A/Professor Stephen Tisch and Neurosugeon Dr Benjamin Jonker.

The directed ultrasound allows beams to travel through the scalp and skull directly into the exact part of the brain (the thalamus) to create a small lesion which blocks the cause of tremors without the need for invasive surgery.

Her Excellency the Hon Margaret Beazley AC QC, Governor of NSW, A/Professor Stephen Tisch and Dr Yael Barnett at the launch of an Australian first, MRI-guided Focus Ultrasound machine for non-invasive neurosurgery in June 2019

“The results are immediate and permanent,” says A/Professor Tisch, who adds that MRgFUS has other uses beyond treating tremors. We’re also looking into developing its use for patients with Parkinson’s Disease and Dystonia and it also has some positive indications in the treatment of Alzheimer’s.”

The availability of the MRgFUS has enormous research potential in the field of neurosciences. The St Vincent’s Curran Foundation is now seeking funding to set up a Patient Access Fund to provide access for all patients who could benefit, and to support A/Professor Tisch to extend the clinical research programs using this technology.

A/Professor Tisch also heads up the Fragile X Clinic which was established with the generous support of philanthropists John Cunningham AM SCM and Margaret Cunningham. Fragile X Syndrome (FXS) is a genetic condition that causes behavioural and learning challenges and can result in Fragile X–associated tremor and ataxia syndrome.

Supporting our Brains Trust

St Vincent’s Brains Trust areas of need

Along with the support of our donors, we are grateful to Dr Peter Bentivoglio, previous St Vincent’s Chair of Neurosurgery, for his ongoing leadership, assistance and commitment to the development of neurosciences research and neurosurgery programs at St Vincent’s.

For further information on our Brains Trust projects, please contact Nicole Forrest Green at nicole.forrestgreen@svha.org.au or on 1800 800 595.

Read online – Autumn Highlights 2021

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