Dr Antonio Berretta, a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Otago anatomy department, is pictured with a greatly magnified image of astrocytes, star-shaped support cells for neurons in the brain. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
University of Otago scientists aim to shed new light on the
role of brain support cells during recovery from strokes,
thanks to a grant of more than $159,000 from the Neurological
Stroke is the leading cause of adult disability in New
Recovery from stroke is difficult and often life-long,
foundation officials say.
Fortunately, significant neurological recovery did occur
after stroke, and research had focused on enhancing this
process in order to develop ''improved rehabilitative
therapies and drug treatments'', officials said.
Research had also shown that astrocytes - the brain's
star-shaped support cells - played a central role in the
functions of neurons (nerve cells).
But it was not yet clear what effect astrocytes had in
recovery from stroke.
Dr Antonio Berretta, a postdoctoral research fellow in the
Otago anatomy department, has received a $159,106 project
The project aimed to assess whether these cells could
influence a neuronal receptor called GABBA, which had a
''significant role in post stroke recovery''.
This assessment would help clarify in detail how astrocytes
contributed to limiting the spread of damage, and
facilitating recovery in the brain after stroke, officials
Dr Berretta, who was born in Italy, was happy to gain the
funding, and to be working on astrocytes, which were
attracting growing interest among researchers.
Dr Andrew Clarkson, an Otago senior research fellow, and a
co-investigator in the research, said that if the normal
function of astrocytes was better understood, a drug
treatment could be developed.
This could use astrocytes to indirectly unlock the potential
of some brain cells which had not been destroyed but had been
''silenced'' by stroke, Dr Clarkson said.
• Dr Tracy Melzer, of the university's Christchurch campus,
has been awarded the 2013 Neurological Foundation Philip
Wrightson Postdoctoral Fellowship, amounting to $178,000.
He will use advanced brain scanning techniques to assess
Parkinson's patients, who will be scanned at four-year
The MRI scanning technology was relatively unexplored in
Parkinson's, and would be used to determine the functional
state of the brain and identify markers so emerging therapies
could be tested, officials said.