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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Abdominal muscle stimulation to improve bowel function in spinal cord injury

Bowel complications, resulting from impaired bowel function, are common for people living with a spinal cord injury (SCI). As a result, people with a SCI have high rates of bowel related illness, even compared with those with other neurological disorders. This includes high rates of abdominal pain, constipation, faecal incontinence and bloating. These problems lower the quality of life of people with a SCI and place a financial burden on the health system. A treatment that improves bowel function for people with a SCI should reduce illness, improve quality of life and lead to a large cost saving for health care providers. Bowel problems have traditionally been managed with manual and pharmacological interventions, such as digital rectal stimulation, enemas, and suppositories. These solutions are usually only partially effective, highlighting the need for improved interventions. The abdominal muscles are one of the major muscle groups used during defecation. Training the abdominal muscles should improve bowel function by increasing abdominal pressure. During our previous Abdominal FES research with people with a SCI, we observed that Abdominal FES appeared to lead to more consistent and effective bowel motion. However, this evidence remains anecdotal. As such, we are going to undertake a large randomised controlled trial to investigate the effectiveness of Abdominal FES to improve the bowel function of people with a SCI. This study will make use of a novel measurement system (SmartPill, Medtronic) that can be swallowed to measure whole gut and colonic transit time. We will also assess whether Abdominal FES can change constipation-related quality of life and the use of laxatives and manual procedures, as well as the frequency of defecation and the time taken. A positive outcome from this study is likely to lead to the rapid clinical translation of this technology for people living with a SCI.
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