MQ Health - Macquarie University

Neuroscience and Neurosurgery

MQ Health conducts leading research in diverse areas of neurosciences – the study of the brain and nervous system – from the causes of and therapies for neurological diseases through to advancing neurosurgery.

Motor Neuron Disease

Among the recognised research strengths in neurodegenerative diseases is MQ Health’s efforts in motor neuron disease (MND, also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) and the genetically-related spectrum disease frontotemporal dementia. These research activities occur in Australia’s largest research program dedicated to MND, the Macquarie University Centre for Motor Neuron Disease Research.

Research within the centre begins with understanding the genetic and epigenetic origins of the disease, including the sporadic forms of the disease, and moves through exploring the defects that occur in protein production and processing, and cellular and sub-cellular dysfunction within the nervous system. These insights are then moved into testing potential therapies in animal models of the disease, with a view to eventual clinical trials in patients.

This discovery pipeline is only made possible by the involvement of clinical researchers within Macquarie Neurology, home to Australia’s largest MND clinic and Australia’s largest longitudinal MND biobank, the Macquarie University Neurodegenerative Diseases Biobank. A number of clinical trials of possible MND therapies are actively underway within Macquarie Neurology at present, and more are expected to occur in coming years as fundamental discoveries from the centre translate to therapies.

Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases

There is a rapidly growing activity in other neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease. Several large research trials of potential treatments for Alzheimer’s disease are underway, while other research is exploring the potential related pathological mechanisms between Alzheimer's disease, glaucoma and vascular problems.

These sorts of multidisciplinary projects are again building on the unique research ecosystem within MQ Health, drawing on fundamental researchers within the faculty, the MQ Health Clinical Trials Unit, and leading research clinicians in glaucoma within Macquarie Ophthalmology and cardiovascular expertise the MQ Health Cardiology Clinic.

Other related research includes a focus on understanding, and reducing, the effects of neuro-inflammation in these and other neurological diseases and disorders, including multiple sclerosis, schizophrenia and autism.

The neurophysiology of the nervous system and drug receptors

Some neurosciences research within MQ Health explores the fundamental neurophysiological processes that occur within the central nervous system, particularly the autonomic nervous system, which controls automatic bodily functions such as breathing, swallowing, heartbeat and blood pressure.

While this research seeks to understand the intricacy and complexity of the nervous system, the insights from it are offering new directions for managing health conditions such as high blood pressure (hypertension), diabetes, chronic kidney disease, and mental health disorders including depression, schizophrenia and drug addiction.

Meanwhile, research at the junction of neurophysiology and pharmacology is exploring how opioid and cannabinoid receptors in cells respond to different illicit and prescription drugs. These fundamental insights can guide new types of drug therapies for conditions such as epilepsy and chronic pain.

Neurosurgery and neurovascular simulations

MQ Health researchers within Macquarie Neurosurgery are conducting leading research to improve the surgical treatments for conditions such as syringomyelia (a fluid-filled cavity within the spinal cord, which arises in a number of diseases and conditions), cerebral aneurysms (bulges or pouches on arteries in the brain, which can rupture and cause stroke or death), and arteriovenous malformations (where arteries and veins in the brain connect directly without the usual capillary bed, again risking rupture and neurological problems).

An important part of this work involves understanding the physiological origins and behaviour of these conditions, in order to develop treatments that deliver best outcomes for patients. For example, researchers are exploring non-invasive pathways to remove arteriovenous malformations, such as by use of ‘gamma knife’ therapy combined with pharmaceuticals. Likewise, they are developing simulation software that can predict the chance of aneurysm rupture and determine the most effective surgical intervention, when surgery is required.

Health services and safety research in neurological conditions and care

MQ Health’s Australian Institute of Health Innovation is pursuing research on service provision and patient safety in areas that relate to neurosciences and the associated clinical areas. Some of this research seeks to understand how to reduce dementia-related complications during hospitalisation of older patients. Other projects are exploring how to ensure the safe and appropriate use of pharmaceuticals for dementia patients within residential aged care facilities, or what types of ‘decision support’ tools would be most useful to motor neuron disease patients, their families and their clinicians.