Top award for research into nerve damage

21 September 2018


A neuroscientist and TV presenter has been awarded for his research using a microscopic worm to help understand how our nervous system is protected from damage.  

Dr Sean Coakley from UQ’s Queensland Brain Institute won a Queensland Young Tall Poppy Award for his work on both neural injuries and science communication.

“Our brains and nervous system contain billions of neurons which communicate with one another using long, thin, cable-like structures called axons,” Dr Coakley said.

“Damage and degeneration of these axons occurs in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, motor neurone diseases and in brain and spinal cord injuries.

“I study the axons of a tiny, microscopic roundworm called C. elegans, which allows me to observe these axons in living, moving animals that and study how they are protected from damage in exquisite detail.”

Dr Coakley, who works in the laboratory of Associate Professor Massimo Hilliard, was awarded an NHMRC-ARC Dementia Research Development Fellowship in 2016 to discover new genes that regulate axon degeneration in C. elegans.

“I’m particularly interested in how axons respond to force, such as the force of movement, and how despite being so fragile, they normally are resilient to these sheer strains,” Dr Coakley said.

“We’ve known about axonal degeneration for more than a century, but are still lacking a basic understanding of how it occurs and why.” 

“I’m striving to demystify this process, and help us understand how and why axonal degeneration happens, information which would potentially inform treatment for neurodegenerative diseases and injuries.”

The Young Tall Poppy Awards celebrate outstanding young scientists who demonstrate excellence in both research and science communication.

In addition to his work at the Queensland Brain Institute, Dr Coakley is a presenter on Get Clever, a science TV show for kids.


Image above: C. elegans.

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