The rffada is a member of the following organisations.
Collaboration for Alcohol Related Developmental Disorders (CARDD) (Formerly FASD Research Network) University of Queensland Centre for Clinical Research
The Queensland Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) Scientific Research Group resulted from a discussion Dr Janet Hammill had with Professor Wendy Hoy in late 2009.
They shared their concerns about the significant occurrence of alcohol related neuro-developmentally impaired children being noted within education and other human services. They felt the problem was obvious across Indigenous and non-Indigenous families and the children being born afflicted into dysfunctional environments were at greater risk of being invisible for diagnosis and appropriately supported life courses. Moreover policy makers were failing dismally in raising awareness of the dangers of alcohol use during pregnancy as a means to reduce the incidence of FASD. Wendy’s suggestion to Janet was to call a meeting of relevant researchers to produce evidence.
An agenda was formulated for discussion and how we could:
- Develop definitive diagnoses of FASD using the broad range of scientific skills available on the Herston campus
- Identify areas of discovery to build upon existing knowledge, resources and technology that show potential
- Gather clinical data from specific cohorts, in particular Indigenous high risk families for comparison with existing data bases
- Possibly identify genetic influences with molecular techniques to reverse or block deleterious effects
- These could involve prenatal neurobiological developmental abnormalities in FASD, postnatal behavioural deficits during early childhood and beyond, intergenerational effects and other suggestions
- Produce outcomes and advocate for remedial services
These were proposed as potential areas of research. The first meeting held on 17th December was attended by Wendy Hoy, Paul Colditz, Leith Moxon-Lester, Lorian Hayes, Glenda Gobe and Janet Hammill but there were nine apologies from interested researchers who were unavailable due to the timing. Expressions of interest and apologies were received from Stephen Rose, Nick Fisk, Karen Moritz, Gail Garvey, Emma Whitelaw, Suyinn Chong, Wayne Hall, David Pow and Coralie.
A second meeting of the Qld FASD Scientific Research Group was held on 23rd February with a greatly increased attendance plus some new participants – see brief bio-data below.
The rffada is a proud member of CARDD and to date has been able to attend three meetings face to face and the remainder via teleconfrerence.
Dr Janet Hammill, an Indigenous ethnographer and acclaimed participatory action researcher, was funded by the NHMRC for both her PhD and an Indigenous Capacity Building Grant. Weaving narratives of Indigenous family histories into a biological framework has illustrated the intergenerational inheritance, epigenetic factors and resulting neurodevelopmental burdens underpinning the plethora of disadvantage demonstrated across all statistical data of health, education and poor life outcomes generally.
Professor Paul Colditz is Director of the Perinatal Research Centre and is the Foundation Professor of Perinatal Medicine at the University of Queensland. He has professional qualifications in paediatrics, biomedical engineering and medical research. His enthusiasm and passion are key to numerous of the research projects described here, spanning laboratory research on brain development, hypoxia and rescue strategies through clinical neurodevelopment to public health and health advancement in children. He is involved in teaching and clinical practice. He advises numerous postgraduate students from clinical, engineering and scientific backgrounds and teaches undergraduate and postgraduate medical and science students. Paul is involved in the clinical care of babies and their families in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and in the clinical assessment of infant neurodevelopment. He serves as a member on international and national research peer review panels such as the NHMRC GRP and the New Zealand HRC project grants committee. He is a member of the UQ School of Medicine Central Clinical Division Research Committee and the Royal Hospitals’ Research Committee. Within Queensland Health he is a member of the Quality Council on Maternal & Perinatal Mortality & Morbidity and various of its subcommittees. Other involvement in professional and community organisations includes membership of the Management Committee SIDS and Kids Queensland; the Scientific Committee, Bonnie Babes Foundation; the Board, SIDS and Kids Australia; Chair, Qld State Committee, PSANZ; Brian Diseases Challenge, UQ; RBWH Foundation Board; Scientific Board, Brainz Inc, a biotech company.
Professor Emma Whitelaw, Senior Research Fellow at Qld Institute of Medical Research, has received one of only 12 Australia Fellowships (in 2009) which will provide a $4million injection of funding to further her research in the field of epigenetics. Selected from a pool of 71 high quality applicants, these researchers are the gold medal winners in their field.
Professor Whitelaw received her award on Friday, January 30 at the Queensland Institute of Medical Research, presented by Senator, the Hon Jan McLucas, and CEO of the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), Warwick Anderson. Emma Whitelaw is a Senior Principal Research Fellow at the Queensland Institute of Medical Research. After completing her undergraduate degree at the Australian National University, she obtained a D.Phil at the University of Oxford and remained working in London and Oxford for the next fifteen years, moving back to Australia in 1991. She has focused her research on eukaryotic transcription using the mouse as a model organism. Her most notable research achievements are in the area of epigenetics, in particular, her studies on the transgenerational inheritance of epigenetic marks have stimulated a great deal of interest from the wider scientific community. Three years ago she moved to QIMR from her previous post at the University of Sydney and this year published The identification of ‘paternal effect genes’ in the mouse (Chong et al, Nature Genetics). These studies argue that the untransmitted genotype of sires (fathers) can affect their offspring’s phenotype. Her laboratory is also studying the role of epigenetics in mediating environmental influences on phenotype.
What is Epigenetics?
Epigenetics is the study of mechanisms which modify DNA structure, and thus change gene expression, without influencing the DNA base sequence. Professor Whitelaw is researching the way that heart and other diseases result not from a single genetic defect but as the consequence of complex gene-environment interactions.
Dr Tom Burne’s research at the Queensland Brain Institute examines neurodevelopmental animal models of early life exposures and their impact on brain development and behaviour. He has expertise in areas covering behavioural phenotyping, psychopharmacology and structural imaging of rodent (rat and mouse) models.
Dr Suyinn Chong and colleagues have established a new mouse model of prenatal alcohol exposure that reproduces several of the diagnostic features of foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), including growth restriction, craniofacial dysmorphology and central nervous system defects. This model system will be used to investigate the underlying causes of FAS, focussing on epigenetics.
The Centre for Chronic Disease at UQ, led by Professor Wendy Hoy, brings perspectives and expertise in epidemiology, health services and policy and outcomes evaluations, as well as in chronic disease risk factors, consequences and mitigation. The Centre has an extensive track record and well developed connections in Indigenous health in Australia, and has pioneered the demonstration of the influence of early life events on adult health in that environment.
Professor Wayne Hall’s expertise is in the epidemiology of alcohol and other drug use and harms caused by the use of these drugs. He is currently researching the ethical and public policy implications of research on the genetics and neurobiology of addiction and drug-related harm. He has worked with Dr Ernest Hunter and others on the effects of alcohol use on Indigenous health in the Kimberley region of Western Australia and Far North Queensland.
Professor Stephen Rose’s research interests are targeted towards the development of novel imaging technology to improve our understanding of brain injury and mechanisms of recovery. In particular, he is interested in developing new PET-MRI fusion technology to probe the pathogenesis of neurodegenerative diseases, linking neuroimaging biomarkers with genetic and clinical patient phenotypes and generating innovative strategies for measuring the efficacy of new therapies.
Dr Leith Moxon-Lester is a member of the Perinatal Research Centre at the University of Queensland Centre for Clinical Research. Her main interest is exploring how impaired one carbon metabolism caused by alcohol and other environmental and genetic factors impacts on foetal and postnatal brain development. Formulation of treatment strategies to correct metabolic dysfunction before and during pregnancy and in early childhood could potentially reduce the incidence of foetal alcohol syndrome.
Dr Rosa Alati’s expertise is in the early origin of alcohol problems. She has published on the effects of in-utero alcohol exposure with adverse outcomes in adolescents and adults. In the early years of her academic career, she has worked with Indigenous people in Victoria, Northern Territory and Western Australia and evaluated a range of Indigenous drug and alcohol programs.
Dr Karen Moritz’s area of research examines the impact of a sub-optimal in utero environment on the long term health of the offspring. She is using rodent models of prenatal ethanol exposure to examine the long term renal, metabolic and cardiovascular outcomes as well as exploring the underlying mechanisms through which prenatal alcohol impairs development.
Associate Professor Gail Garvey is an Indigenous researcher with qualitative expertise. She is leading the Indigenous Health Research Program at the Queensland Institute of Medical Research and has a successful track record of working with Aboriginal communities and community controlled medical services in research. Her current research interests are in the areas of cancer, prevalence and treatment as it pertains to Indigenous peoples. Gail is chief investigator on an ARC-Discovery Grant and a NHMRC Project Grant investigating aspects of supportive care needs of Indigenous cancer patients. On a personal level she is the long term Foster Carer for an Aboriginal child with FASD.
Ms Lorian Hayes is an Indigenous healthworker and researcher with qualifications in epidemiology and training in diagnostic and assessment of FASD at the University of Washington, USA. She has lead awareness and education on FASD on Cape York Peninsula and presented widely across Australia since 1992 as well as Canada.
Dr Heather Douglas’ focus is on the criminal law and she has particular interests in sentencing, criminal responsibility and the way the criminal justice process impacts on Indigenous people. FASD has implications at all levels of the criminal justice process from police arrest and interview, to criminal responsibility and the defences and to sentencing. Heather’s recent work, presented and published, has been in relation to FASD and sentencing concerns.
Dr Margo Pritchard’s research and clinical focus is in high-risk child and family surveillance and intervention. She has provided incremental evidence (population studies, RCTs) to support high risk primary health programs to optimise long-term neurobehavioral/development militating against attenuation of early intervention effect.
Professor David Pow is a researcher in the area of neurosciences. Four main streams of research are conducted in our laboratory; for up to date information see www.powlab.eaats.org: (i) The role of micro-haemorrhage in long term nervous system degenerations, including age related macular degeneration). (ii) The role of amino acid transporters in development, health and disease, particularly in the developing neonatal brain. (iii) The homeostasis of the NMDA receptor co-agonist D-serine, and (iv) neuronal remodelling in the aged and damaged retina. Our laboratory has recently demonstrated that micro-haemorrhage in the retina of rats gives rise to a delayed neuro-degeneration which closely resembles age-related macular degeneration, a common blinding disease in elderly people. This is the first physiological model of this disease and provides a unique opportunity for testing potential therapeutic agents. The brain uses a number of molecules as excitatory or inhibitory neurotransmitters; the majority of these molecules are amino acids such as glutamate or glycine. Some of these molecules, such as glutamate are implicated in the pathogenesis of diseases such as epilepsy, schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s disease. Research in this laboratory focuses on analysing the distributions and functions of specialised transporters which are responsible for redistributing amino acid neurotransmitters between sites of synthesis and sites of usage. By creating antibodies against transporters such as the glycine transporter (glyt-1) or glutamate transporters, we are able to determine the role of each transporter in normal and pathological neurochemical homeostasis in the brain and in the retina. Current projects include understanding the roles of glutamate, GABA and the taurine transporters in pathological and developing brains, and determining the role of taurine in the adult nervous system. D-serine is an important molecule in the mammalian brain and we have been investigating the distribution and homeostasis of this molecule using new antibodies that allow its colocalisation with fixation-sensitive antigens such as glutamate transporters and Glial markers such as GFAP. Our recent light and electron microscopic studies show that D-serine is contained in vesicular structures in astrocytes and is also present in subsets of identified glutamatergic neurons (Williams et al., 2006). Our last research area is in neural remodelling and repair. We have recently demonstrated that adult neurons in the intact human retina are able to reconnect to new targets. We are now characterising this process as a basis for neural repair paradigms.
Dr Peter Nixon, MD, PhD, FRACP, Honorary Reader, Biochemistry, School of Chemistry & Molecular Biosciences, University of Queensland – It is established that the morphology of the choroid plexus is grossly altered in the offspring of experimental rodents given alcohol for several days, important since the choroid plexus is responsible for production of CSF and contributes to establishment of the “internal milieau” of the developing brain. Further, an aspect of the FASD is ameliorated by administration, during pregnancy, of supplemental thyroid hormone and one of the many functions of the choroid plexus is transfer of thyroid hormone from blood to brain. I am interested to establish whether a single, acute alcohol dose given to a pregnant, experimental animal, opens the blood-CSF barrier at the choroid plexus (as I have demonstrated for the adult rat) and grossly alters the CSF chemistry, particularly by a large increase in the CSF concentration of excitotoxic glutamate (as I predict). Dr Peter Nixon’s interests lie in understanding disease at the molecular level, focusing on enzymes and receptor proteins interacting with thiamin or folate vitamins. In particular, Peter’s work seeks to reveal the possible role of alcohol metabolism and oxidative stress in the degradation of thiamin diphosphate during enzymic catalysis. Brain damage in thiamin deficiency, usually associated with alcohol abuse, is unexpectedly common and has been studied by NMR imaging. The folate binding receptor protein is isolated on a process scale from dairy milk; it stabilises labile, natural folates, affects the bioavailability of food folates and folate nutrition, and has roles in the assay of blood and tissue folates, all applications of biotechnology.
Ms Megan Williams is an Indigenous researcher whose work at present relates to the suboptimal support and release preparation for Indigenous prisoners. She has extensive experience in hands-on health promotion with drug users, and capacity building among service providers in the area of drugs and hepatitis C education. Megan has often worked at the same time in community-based organisations and the School of Population Health. the University of Queensland, and is most motivated by integrating research and on-the-ground practice. This largely builds on her Bachelor of Social Science degree majoring in human services and Graduate Certificate in Applied Social Research. Megan is currently establishing a research higher degree program focusing on alcohol and drug use post-prison release by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. She is also evaluating the Lotus Glen Indigenous Peer Education Project funded by Queensland Corrective Services and Queensland Health.
Dr Tracey Björkman is an NHMRC Post-Doctoral Research Officer studying hypoxic brain injury in the newborn. Her principal research interests are Perinatal GABA receptor development, GABA mediated exci-totoxicity in immature brain, seizures and injury following hypoxia and the neuro-protective therapies for the newborn hypoxic brain.