Jackie Lau and Louise Cottle win 2014 Stuart Furler Travel Awards

Congratulations to Jackie Lau and Louise Cottle! Stuart Furler Travel Awards are presented to third-year PhD students at Garvan with outstanding research records and bright futures.

Louise Cottle and Jackie Lau

06 November 2014

Congratulations to Jackie Lau and Louise Cottle, winners of 2014 Stuart Furler Travel Awards* presented today.

Both Jackie and Louise are based in Garvan’s Neuroscience Division: Jackie in the Eating Disorders Laboratory, and Louise in the Parkinson’s Disease and Neurodegeneration Laboratory.

Jackie Lau is attempting to find the receptor for a “mysterious but important” neurotransmitter known as CART (Cocaine- and Amphetamine- Regulated Transcript). According to her, CART presents “intriguing clinical possibilities because it appears to make people eat less”.

Legions of scientists have preceded Jackie in this quest, although different studies have reached contradictory conclusions.

CART appears to be associated with stress, addiction, obesity and diabetes. Jackie has shown that certain kinds of stress, such as cool temperatures, can shift CART levels and functions in mice, compelling them to use more carbohydrates, which they store as fat.

Jackie has also knocked down the gene in mice, to see how it affects their shape and body composition, and has used the latest technology to tag neurons and track neuronal signaling pathways involved in the CART system.

While Jackie has not yet tracked down the receptor, she is edging towards a clearer picture of the CART puzzle, and the regions of brain it activates.

Louise Cottle is pursuing an equally challenging quest by attempting to unravel the effect of a gene known as PARK9, which appears to play a protective role in Parkinson’s disease by reducing the damaging effects of alpha-synuclein, a protein considered central to disease onset and progression.

Parkinson’s disease involves the degeneration of neurons that produce the neurotransmitter dopamine. Autopsies show an abundance of alpha-synuclein in affected regions of the brain, so scientists have known for some time that over-expression of the protein is toxic.

Alpha-synuclein forms little aggregates, or clumps, in the brain when there is too much of it, probably as a result of ‘protein misfolding’ (proteins incorrectly formed and unable to carry out their function in cells.

Much of Louise’s project has focused on the consequences of protein misfolding and aggregation – in cell culture and mouse models – and whether or not PARK9 can ameliorate them. Her work has included histological and behavioural studies.

Louise plans to attend the12th International Conference on Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Diseases next March in Nice, France. She also hopes to visit the laboratories of Associate Professor Wade-Martins at the University of Oxford and Professor David Rubinsztein at the Cambridge Institute for Medical Research.

Jackie plans to attend both the Keystone Symposia on Molecular and Cellular Biology in Utah, USA, next April, and the 11th NPY-PYY-PP Meeting in Leipzig, Germany, in August. She also hopes to meet Professor Richard Palmiter from the Washington School of Medicine in Seattle, as well as Professor Regine Heilbronn, Director of the Institute of Virology at Charité Medical School in Germany.

*Stuart Furler was a long-serving and highly respected scientist in Garvan’s Diabetes and Metabolism Division who died of pancreatic cancer in 2007. His family established the Travel Award in his memory, as a way of nurturing early career scientists.
Third year PhD students are eligible to apply for the Stuart Furler Travel Award. Winners receive $5,000 to attend a major international conference relevant to their field of research, as well as to visit labs of potential collaborators.

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