Unlocking the central nervous system

The Centre for Neuroscience and Regenerative Medicine at UTS sits on the cusp of a revolution as it unlocks the secrets of the central nervous system.

Science studentsGround-breaking research at UTS’s Centre of Neuroscience and Regenerative Medicine (CNRM) is bringing new hope to Australians whose lives have been devastated by Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, stroke, and the paralysing effects of a spinal cord injury.

Lead by Professor Bryce Vissel, the CNRM has a unique opportunity to become known as a world-leading centre for  spinal cord injury by providing a level of recovery from spinal cord injury previously thought impossible; as well as a world-leading platform for molecular, cellular and behavioural research that will ultimately benefit the lives of people suffering from neurodegenerative disorders, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

The human brain and spinal cord remain the most significant mysteries in science and modern medicine. Neurological and psychiatric disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, stroke, spinal cord injury, and mental illnesses such as depression are some of the most challenging problems in human health and take a toll on individuals, families and society.

“We are on the edge of a revolution in neuroscience and brain repair,” says Vissel.

“Our goal is to contribute to a step change in our understanding and treatment of these diseases.”

Alzheimer’s disease alone affects more than 413,106 Australians. That number increases by 244 each day. By 2025, that figure is expected to rise to more than 536,164, with the annual cost of simply caring for them reaching $18.7 billion.

Parkinson’s disease affects more than 70,000 Australians, with 32 new cases diagnosed every day. In a single year, the health system costs of Parkinson’s disease amount to $567.7 million. 

Spinal cord injuries in Australia also carry a considerable national cost – $2 billion annually for the estimated 15,000 people who have lost not just the use of their limbs, but also their independence and their control over numerous functions we take for granted, such as sexual function, bowel control and bladder control.

Using a clinical focus, the CNRM will incorporate the most promising approaches from around the world into its own local research with a view to developing superior techniques and achieving improved outcomes.

Unlike other research centres, the CNRM has the ability to collaborate in unprecedented ways with unrelated disciplines; with physicists, engineers and nurses, as well as external organisations such as Spinal Cord Injuries Australia and SpinalCure Australia. With so much potential at its fingertips, it sits on the precipice of a revolution in neuroscience and brain repair as it edges closer towards bringing meaningful benefits, potential recovery, and most importantly, real hope, to these patients and their families.

Supporters who have seen Vissel at work do not doubt his resolve.

“He has an unbelievable commitment to creating an improvement in neuroscience that is everlasting,” says Andrew Boyarsky, whose family has made a significant investment in the CNRM. “It’s his commitment, his intelligence, his unorthodoxy and his compassion that set him apart.”

For more information, contact advancement@uts.edu.au

Story and photography by Kevin Cheung