NeuRA researcher tops PhD candidate list

NeuRA researcher, Dr David Elliott, has been recognised as the UNSW School of Medical Sciences’ top PhD candidate for 2009.

The prize is awarded annually to the best PhD thesis submitted to the School of Medical Sciences and is based on examiner’s ratings and comments, number of publications and the timely completion of the thesis.

Dr Elliott, who completed his PhD thesis last year, said he was enjoying the acknowledgement of his research.

“It’s really nice to see all your hard work and perseverance recognised, because it can be really tough being a researcher sometimes.”

Dr Elliott, who currently works with Professor Brett Garner at NeuRA, beat 29 other PhD candidates for the top spot. He impressed the research committee with his four published papers, high ratings recommended by his PhD reviewers and prompt completion of this thesis.

“I completed my PhD in four years, and it was the first in the School of Medical Sciences to be done as a series of publications, which you can only do if you have enough papers.”

Dr Elliott’s research focused on a protein called ApoE and its link with Alzheimer’s disease. In particular, he looked at a version of the protein that confers high risk for the disease.

“Having this high risk version of the protein is the biggest genetic risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease,” he says. “It can increase your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease ten-fold.”

Dr Elliott investigated the structural differences between the high and low risk versions of the ApoE protein. As a post-doctoral researcher at NeuRA, he is continuing to characterise this protein and its role in the brain.

He says this research will give us a better picture of the mechanisms behind the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

“In order to have any hope of developing a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease, we first need to understand what this protein does and have a good understanding of how this structural change affects the function of this protein in the brain.”