Director's message

Our research is only possible with your support

How did we stay optimistic in a year that tested everyone’s resilience? It’s not hard if you see our team’s drive, the quality of their research and the inspiration they receive from donors. In 2021, despite the ongoing impacts of COVID-19, we pushed on with discovery research that underpins translational research and better health outcomes. To our team, donors and partners, thank you. We cannot achieve this without you. 

From discovery research

In 2021, Queensland Brain Institute (QBI) researchers applied their skills to new health challenges, such as COVID-19, and made breakthroughs in age-old conditions like dementia. At QBI, we are building on close to two decades of discovery research that has, and will, continue to improve people’s lives.

I acknowledge and thank our Scientific Advisory Board, which provides wise counsel to QBI on its direction and the future of research.

In 2021, the quality and diversity of QBI’s discovery research were clear. In the Goodhill group, researchers used larval zebrafish models to show a different role for spontaneous activity in brain development. In the Scott lab, the team discovered unexpected sophistication in the hearing capabilities of larval zebrafish, which has implications for aquatic behaviour and evolution and establishes a platform for studying how auditory processing is altered in conditions such as autism and schizophrenia.

Using the roundworm C. elegans as their model, researchers in the Hu group and the Meunier group dissected the mechanism of neurotransmitter release. The Faulkner group contributed to our understanding of long COVID, refuting claims that COVID-19 can enter a person’s DNA.

As interest in the octopus exploded, the Marshall group used high-resolution MRI to make many discoveries about these animals and their brain structure and visual processing. The van Swinderen group used 2-photon brain imaging to track the activity patterns of hundreds of neurons in the central brain of the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster, providing new approaches to understanding sleep in animals and people.

In 2021, the McGrath group published findings about a shorter life expectancy for individuals with comorbid mental health disorders and general medical conditions. The team also continued to contribute their knowledge about the genetics of schizophrenia.

In the Tye lab, researchers discovered that insulin plays an important role in how the brain regulates antidepressant outcomes to ketamine, showing that we can augment this response with lithium. This is now the focus of a small precision medicine clinical trial for people with treatment-resistant depression.

Closer to clinic

QBI researchers are now translating discoveries made at QBI to clinical trials after years of discovery research. In 2021, researchers began a trial to test the safety and benefits of a new drug to treat motor neurone disease. Working alongside prominent neurosurgeons, we also demonstrated that deep brain stimulation (DBS) is a successful treatment for people living with obsessive compulsive disorder. We also started looking at DBS as a treatment for anorexia nervosa. These examples reinforce the importance of discovery research for major medical breakthroughs. I am confident that there are many more to come.

Thank you

Our research is made possible by people – scientists and operational staff who chose QBI as their workplace, our industry and academic partners and the donors who inspire our research. Thank you all for supporting neuroscience’s vital role in helping people live healthier, happier and more productive lives.

My thanks to the QBI Executive, including my Deputy Directors: Professor Helen Cooper (Research), Helen Hume (Operations) and Andrea Markey (Advancement), for their support.

Thank you to the broader UQ community, particularly Vice-Chancellor Professor Deborah Terry, for her leadership. Last but not least, sincere thanks to the QBI Advisory Board, chaired by Jeff Maclean, for helping us realise our vision to improve lives through a deeper understanding of the brain in health and disease.

Professor Pankaj Sah