New laboratory probes neurogenetics of brain disease

2 Aug 2011

The Queensland Brain Institute (QBI) and The University of Queensland Diamantina Institute (UQDI) will further strengthen their research ties with China following the opening in Shanghai today of a joint laboratory dedicated to exploring how genes influence brain development and function.

The Joint Sino-Australian Neurogenetics Laboratory will aim to uncover the genes that cause or make individuals susceptible to certain neurological and mental illnesses.

Researchers will initially focus upon the neurogenetics of motor neuron disease (MND), schizophrenia, stroke and epilepsy, but expect to extend their investigations to other disorders such as depression and dementia as the laboratory develops.

“Because of the large numbers of patients with these diseases in China, compared to Australia and elsewhere, this provides us with an unmatched opportunity to investigate the genetic basis of a range of devastating brain diseases,” says QBI Director, Professor Perry Bartlett.

A collaboration with the Second Military Medical University (SMMU), the Joint Sino-Australian Neurogenetics Laboratory will be officially opened by Federal Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, the Hon Kim Carr.

Also present will be Professor Bartlett, Professor Matt Brown (Professor of Immunogenetics, UQDI) and Professor Huji Xu (Chairman, Department of Rheumatology and Immunology, Changzheng Hospital, SMMU).

According to Professor Bartlett, it is the second key collaboration between the two countries, following the 2010 opening of the Joint Laboratory of Neuroscience and Cognition between QBI and the Institute of Biophysics in Beijing.

Professor Bartlett says colleagues in Shanghai offer unique research opportunities which include access to large populations of families, or multicase families, which enable adequately powered gene-mapping studies.

“Large cohorts like this simply aren’t found in Australia,” he explains.

The research program will also facilitate, for the first time within the Chinese population, genetic studies which have so far been conducted only in patient cohorts of European descent.

“Studying ethnically remote cohorts has the potential advantage that differences in ancestral genetic diversity may enable mapping of genes in Han Chinese that are not easily identified in other populations,” says Professor Bartlett.

“These population genetic differences may also enable better resolution of key disease-associated regions.”

Professors Bartlett and Brown will be awarded with Honorary Professorships of the SMMU at the opening ceremony.