NeuRA Magazine #22

Feature Story

SYDNEY BRAIN BANK – A WORLD CLASS FACILITY

The Sydney Brain Bank has been operating since 2005 and has collected brain tissue from over 500 donors. The Sydney Brain Bank at NeuRA facilitates world-class research and breakthroughs in ageing and neurodegenerative disorders. Globally the Sydney Brain Bank supplies tissue to 30-40 research projects a year, with many of these projects a collaborative effort with external research institutions.

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Led by Dr Claire Shepherd, recently appointed to position of Director of the Sydney Brain Bank, the team has developed a new method which will allow them to characterise one of the key pathologies underlying Alzheimer’s disease using a simpler, cost effective and less labour-intensive method without compromising on the quality and sensitivity of the diagnosis.

Says Dr Shepherd, “At the Sydney Brain Bank, we collect, characterise and store the brain tissue from individuals that have died from ageing or neurodegenerative disorders so that we can facilitate medical research.”
“This new method will be advantageous because post-mortem human brain research takes a lot of time and money to do well – we undertake a comprehensive screen of every brain we collect. Doing this more cost effectively will allow us to collect more cases and facilitate more research into ageing and neurodegenerative disorders,” says Dr Shepherd.

At the Sydney Brain Bank, working with a large number of clinical research programs means the majority of donors have been involved in longitudinal clinical research studies. This data allows researchers to understand the relationship between someone’s clinical symptoms in life and the pathology in their brains at death.

There is currently no definitive diagnosis for these disorders in life. The Sydney Brain Bank at NeuRA uses research diagnostic criteria to characterise the brain changes and identify the specific neurodegenerative disease they were suffering from.

During 2017, Dr Claire Shepherd travelled to the UK to visit several British Brain Banks and to work with their researchers to understand their processes and share ideas and techniques.

By working with international researchers, NeuRA aims to strengthen and harness a more collaborative global approach between the various Brain Banks and to help address many research questions – working together is a more powerful way to go.
The Sydney Brain Bank is funded by NeuRA and our generous donors and receives no government support.

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Caress the Detail: A Comprehensive MRI Atlas of the in Vivo Human Brain

This project aims to deliver the most comprehensive, detailed and stereotaxically accurate MRI atlas of the canonical human brain. In human neuroscience, researchers and clinicians almost always investigate images obtained from living individuals. Yet, there is no satisfactory MRI atlas of the human brain in vivo or post-mortem. There are some population-based atlases, which valiantly solve a number of problems, but they fail to address major needs. Most problematically, they segment only a small number of brain structures, typically about 50, and they are of limited value for the interpretation of a single subject/patient. In contrast to population-based approaches, the present project will investigate normal, living subjects in detail. We aim to define approximately 800 structures, as in the histological atlas of Mai, Majtanik and Paxinos (2016), and, thus, provide a “gold standard” for science and clinical practice. We will do this by obtaining high-resolution MRI at 3T and 7T of twelve subjects through a collaboration with Markus Barth from the Centre for Advanced Imaging at the University of Queensland (UQ). The limited number of subjects will allow us to image each for longer periods, obtaining higher resolution and contrast, and to invest the required time to produce unprecedented detail in segmentation. We will produce an electronic atlas for interpreting MR images, both as a tablet application and as an online web service. The tablet application will provide a convenient and powerful exegesis of brain anatomy for researchers and clinicians. The open access web service will additionally provide images, segmentation and anatomical templates to be used with most common MR-analysis packages (e.g., SPM, FSL, MINC, BrainVoyager). This will be hosted in collaboration with UQ, supporting and complementing their population-based atlas.
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