New $63m facility attracts international brain expertise

16 Nov 2007

Queensland Premier Anna Bligh has opened the $63m state-of-the-art Queensland Brain Institute (QBI) research facility at UQ's St Lucia campus.

The facility will position Queensland at the forefront of research into discovering new treatments for disorders such as dementia, stroke, depression and motor neuron disease.

The purpose-built, seven-storey facility will house as many as 250 scientists, working to unlock the secrets of the brain in complex areas such as memory and learning, cognition, ageing dementia and neurological disease.

UQ Vice-Chancellor, Professor John Hay, AC, welcomed today's announcement that the Queensland Government would provide operational funding of $25m for the QBI.

“I congratulate the Queensland Government on making additional support available for operational funding to ensure the Queensland Brain Institute's research is supported,” he said.

“The University is most appreciative of the generous support of the Queensland Government and The Atlantic Philanthropies which has made this facility possible.”

Today's announcement for operational funding brings the total of Queensland Government support for QBI to $45m.

“Being based at The University of Queensland, QBI scientists will have unique opportunities to collaborate with world-class scholars from our faculties and other new institutes,” Professor Hay said.

The QBI is one of six new world-class UQ institutes, which have a combined community of 1,500 scientists, social scientists and engineers.

Professor Hay said the critical mass of researchers at the Queensland Brain Institute would add substantially to progress towards solutions to some of humanity's most devastating conditions.

“It will also be of considerable benefit to the Queensland economy. One-quarter of the 24 QBI group leaders are new to Australia and 19 are new to Queensland,” he said.

QBI Director Professor Perry Bartlett said it had been a great privilege to recruit some of the world's top neuroscientists to Queensland to focus on understanding how the brain functioned.

“It's an extremely exciting time for neuroscience and I believe QBI scientists can make fundamental discoveries into brain functions such as memory and learning, and apply this knowledge to address an overwhelming tide of neurological disease and mental illnesses in the community,” Professor Bartlett said.

“The new Institute will enable diverse teams of neuroscientists to work together for the first time to address these problems.

“Brain disease, such as dementia, stroke and depression, affects more Australians than cancer or heart disease, and yet we are just beginning to have the resources to tackle these diseases.”

In 2002, Professor Bartlett and his research team made a world-first discovery of the critical role of brain stem cells in the production of nerve cells, opening up a new field of discovery in this area.

Since this discovery, neurogenesis – investigation of how new nerve cells are created and integrated naturally in the brain – is rapidly gaining scientific attention worldwide.

A better understanding of neurogenesis is expected to lead to treatments for diseases, previously labeled “incurable”, such as dementia, brain and spinal cord injury.

“Our research is indicating that in most cases, there is nothing irreversible about brain disease,” Professor Bartlett said.

“Current and future work by QBI researchers may well lead to an ability to replace nerve cells damaged by neurological disorders, and to repair and regenerate the brain.”

The QBI facility features state-of-the-art research laboratories, a 200-seat auditorium and computer systems designed to manage a massive volume of electronic data generated by the Institute's advanced imaging technology.