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Personal profile


  1. I am the Professor of Neurobiology and Neurochemistry, and Associate Dean (Research) in the Faculty of Medicine & Health Sciences .  My main areas of research interest involve a multi-disciplinary approach to understanding the basic biochemical, molecular and cellular mechanisms that underpin how neurons respond to injury or neurodegenerative disease, and how non-neuronal cells (glia) are involved in modulating this process.   I completed my PhD in molecular biology in 2003, and have since led a research team at the University of Tasmania (2004-2013) and at Macquarie University since 2013.

Research interests

Current research programs: My research program has three main themes that focus upon understanding the moleclar origins of MND.

1) understanding the role of aggregated neurotoxic proteins in mediating intercellular interactions between neurons and glia in MND and dementia.  One of our particular interests is in understanding the protective role of microglial phagocytosis in neurodegeneration, and how this process may be impaired in MND.  We use elegant live-imaging confocal microscopy techniques to visualise this process in real-time in living organisms.

microglial phagocytosis

Figure: In vivo time-lapse imaging in the spinal cord to visualise the microglia (red) response to dying neuron (all neurons are green), leading to phagocytosis of the neuronal debris (yellow). [Morsch et al, Front Cell Neurosci, 2015]


2) biochemical and proteomic characterisation of molecular origins and pathogenesis of MND and dementia. We have developed a series of new molecular tools to visualise protein aggregation in living cells/animals, and proteomic techniques to isolate and understand the impact of disease-linked protein aggregates upon cellular health. We are also using proteomic profiling approaches to identify protein biomarkers in patient blood that can provide diagnostic and prognostic insight in MND and dementia.  Our discoveries underpin several recent provisional patent applications (2016/17) that describe potential clinical and theraeutic applications of our research.

3) nanoparticle delivery systems for drug delivery in MND and dementia. we have focussed upon development of novel nanoparticle delivery systems that can efficiently carry drug cargoes into the brain and spinal cord.  This seeks to overcome some of the major hurdles associated with treating brain diseases - by improving the stability of therapeutic drugs and providing an ability to introduce cell-specific targeting of drugs.


Previous research achievements:  From 2004‐2013, my research program based at the University of Tasmania was focused upon a multi‐disciplinary approach to understanding the basic biochemical, molecular and cellular mechanisms that underpin how neurons respond to injury or disease, and how non‐ neuronal cells (glia) are involved in modulating this process. This research has focused upon metallothioneins (MTs), a highly unusual family of metal‐binding proteins whose precise physiological functions remain unclear. My research team has been at the international forefront in identifying precise links between protein structure, the unique biochemical properties that this structure confers, and the biological functions of MTs. Two of the major achievements of this research program have been:

  • Revealing that extracellular MTs have neurotrophic activities, and play an important role in astrocyte‐neuron responses to injury.  This work reveals that MTs (and MT-based peptides) have potential neuroprotective and neuroregenerative activities.

  • Exploring the ability of MT to de‐toxify neurotoxic, metal‐bound and aggregated forms of beta‐amyloid.  This work reveals the therapeutic potential of MTs (and MT-based peptides) against amyloid-toxicity in Alzheimer's disease.

These discoveries underpin a family of patents that have progressed to full international status (National Phase), and have subsequently been licensed to a biotech company for further therapeutic and commercial development.




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