Publish Date: 
Wednesday, October 12, 2016 - 16:45

Geoff Faulkner wins CSL Centenary Fellowship

Congratulations to TRI based Mater and University of Queensland researcher Professor Geoff Faulkner who was recently awarded a significant grant from CSL to further support his work into Alzheimers. 

Prof Geoff Faulkner was 1 of 2 inaugural Fellows in a $25 million program established by CSL in its Centenary year to support Australia’s best and brightest biomedical researchers—fostering excellence in medical research by supporting mid-career scientists to pursue world-class research at an Australian institution. 

Professor Geoff Faulkner from the University of Queensland thinks long-term memory might be stored in our brain’s DNA and he’ll test his theory in brains affected by Alzheimer’s.

It’s a bold idea. Geoff has already shown that the DNA in our brains is different to that in the rest of our bodies, and that it changes as we learn. He’s proposing that these changes are associated with how we store our long-term memories. With the CSL Centenary Fellowship he’ll test the idea on brain tissue donated by Alzheimer’s patients to determine if DNA is involved in memory formation, and what the implications of this might be for people living with Alzheimer’s.

His research is moving us closer to an understanding of conditions like Alzheimer’s and hopefully towards a cure for this chronic and devastating disease.  

“Australian research punches above its weight on the world stage with an excellent track record in new discoveries to potentially address the world’s unmet medical needs,” said CSL CEO & Managing Director Paul Perreault.

“At CSL, we are driven by our promise to save lives and protect the health of people around the world. We’re extremely proud to support research that holds the potential to save and change many lives. Our Centenary Fellowships honour CSL’s long legacy of contributing to innovative medicines, particularly for patients suffering serious diseases.”

CSL Chief Scientific Officer Andrew Cuthbertson says Geoff and Steven are the embodiment of what these Fellowships are about.

“Innovation is one of the core values that guide CSL’s significant investment into medical science, so it is fitting that the Centenary Fellowships seek to foster the best scientists in Australia who will shape the next century of critical breakthroughs.”

“Growing skills and expertise through well-funded, long-term support is essential in order to help the Australian research community continue to thrive,” Andrew says.

Are memories stored in DNA?

Geoff Faulkner— Mater Research Institute-University of Queensland (MRI-UQ) and Queensland Brain Institute (QBI)

Geoff Faulkner is testing a bold idea— he thinks long-term memory might be stored in our brain’s DNA. If he’s right, it will revolutionise both our understanding of life’s blueprint and how we manage diseases like schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s.

There’s DNA in every human cell called ‘junk’ or ‘non-coding’ DNA because our bodies don’t use it to generate proteins, the building blocks of life.

The strange thing is, this DNA makes up over 98 per cent of our genome. Surely it must do something. The question is: what?

Geoff Faulkner has been studying this question for years with his team from the MRI-UQ. Now, working with the Queensland Brain Institute (QBI), Geoff’s inaugural CSL Centenary Fellowship will help him delve deeper, using brains bequeathed by Alzheimer’s patients.

The research will focus on genetic components that can move and replicate during cell division. They’re called L1 retrotransposons and make up 17 per cent of our genome. Geoff has already proven the amount of L1 movement is higher in brain neurons than other body cells and that we might acquire more L1 movements in the brain as we age.

More recently, he’s linked the amount of L1 movement to the function of genes in the hippocampus, the part of the brain that controls memory and spatial navigation, and has been implicated in memory loss with ageing, schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s disease.

By studying brains from Alzheimer’s patients, Geoff will be paying tribute to their generosity in donating post-mortem brain tissue by looking for answers as to why this devastating condition develops.

Firstly, Geoff is looking to define the mobilisation of L1 in the brain, including its distribution and impact within the hippocampus. Then he’ll assess whether L1 movement is modulated by environmental stimulation and plays a role in memory formation. Finally, he hopes to establish the significance of reduced L1 abundance in Alzheimer’s patients.

These efforts may move us toward therapies that help restore cognitive function. They also build on a long history of cutting-edge neuroscience research in Australia, including the career of 2015 CSL Florey Medal winner and inaugural QBI Director Professor Perry Bartlett, whose revolutionary discoveries changed our understanding of stem cells, dementia and the human brain.

Geoff’s own research career began as an undergraduate at the University of Queensland. He’s since gone on to attract over $28 million in research funding, publish over 45 papers and win a series of fellowships and awards. His biggest achievement to date was a seminal paper in the journal Nature describing L1 movements in the human brain, which was called the ‘joint No. 1 research advance of 2011’ by the US National Institute of Mental Health.

The CSL Centenary Fellowship puts Geoff in the strongest position of his career to answer the fundamental question of how changes to DNA during life affects how the brain functions.

Media contacts

Niall Byrne: [email protected]; 0417 131 977; (03) 9398 1416

Jemimah Pentland for CSL: [email protected]; 0412 635 483

About the Fellowships
The CSL Centenary Fellowships for mid-career medical researchers are high-value awards available to Australians who wish to continue a career in medical research in Australia. Two individual, five-year fellowships will be awarded each calendar year. The total value of each award is AUD$1.25 million, which is paid in annual instalments of AUD$250,000 to the Fellow’s employing university or medical research institute.

The CSL Centenary Fellowships are competitively selected grants offered to mid-career (3-8 years post-doctoral) medical researchers. The Fellowships are primarily awarded for discovery and translational research with a focus on rare and serious diseases, immunology, and inflammation.

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About CSL

CSL (ASX:CSL) is a leading global biotherapeutics company with a dynamic portfolio of life-saving innovations, including those that treat haemophilia and immune deficiencies, as well as vaccines to prevent influenza. Since our start in 1916, we have been driven by our promise to save lives using the latest technologies. Today, CSL — including our two businesses CSL Behring and Seqirus — operates in over 30 countries with more than 15,000 employees. Our unique combination of commercial strength, R&D focus and operational excellence enables us to identify, develop and deliver innovations so our patients can live life to the fullest.