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Molecular Neurosciences

Molecular neurosciences

Through a combination of approaches, our researchers aim to identify new ways to prevent and treat schizophrenia, obesity and obesity-related colon cancer. A key strategy is to study the pathological mechanisms of disease using human brain tissue, animal models and cell culture. Results from these studies are translated into novel pharmacological and dietary interventions for human diseases.

Research groups

The goal of Dr Yee Lian Chew’s research team is to use the brain of a tiny nematode worm, Caenorhabditis elegans to reveal new information about the human brain, from looking at single cells and networks to advancing our understanding of how animals can adapt and learn new behaviours. We will do this by exploiting the unique properties of the nematode model: a compact nervous system consisting of 302 neurons, unrivalled genetic accessibility and ease of maintenance. The techniques used in the lab include the generation of transgenic lines and genome editing via CRISPR/Cas, molecular biology, biochemistry and analysis of behavioural changes/learning paradigms. Ultimately, the information derived from C. elegans is hoped to advance knowledge on the fundamental biological basis of neurological conditions in humans such as chronic pain and neurodegenerative disease.

Yee Lian has spent the last 9 years of her life trying to understand life through the worm: she did her PhD at the University of Sydney (2011-2014) and moved to the Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, UK (2015-2019) to study worms in colder weather. She joined the University of Wollongong and Illawarra Health and Medical Research Institute (IHMRI) in January 2019.

 

"A transparent nematode C. elegans (and eggs), with red and green fluorescence marking different tissues in the body, including neurons in the head (middle of image). The fluorescent markers indicate where signalling molecules via a particular neuropeptide (red) or dopamine (green) are expressed. Fluorescent tools like these help researchers to dissect which neurons make up circuits in the brain that control the animal's behaviour." Photo taken by Y. Chew using Zeiss LSM 780 confocal microscope at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge UK.

View Dr Yee Lian Chew's Scholars page

Contact ylchew@uow.edu.au for more information.

Humans are experiencing stress at higher levels than ever before. In the developed world, this appears to be a product of our way of life, where we are busier than ever yet more isolated from our natural environments and communities. In other places, war, conflict, climate change and environmental disasters are displacing people from their homes and countries at unprecedented rates.

Stress is not always bad for us. It’s what gets us out of bed and gives us laser focus. Yet stress that is stronger than an individual’s ability to adapt and cope is one of the leading risk factors for developing severe mental illnesses including depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder, and anxiety. In fact, the World Health Organisation predicts that by 2030, one third of all disease burden in the world will be caused by stress.

We are therefore at a crossroad. We urgently need an improved understanding of the detailed and widespread effects of stress on human biology, so that we can identify people who are vulnerable to the effects of stress and improve their resilience. To do this, we must first understand what are the biological effects of stress and how does stress raise risk to mental illness.

An inverse Colgi-cox stained image of the human brain cortex by Dominical Kaul

Our goal

The Matosin Lab broadly aims to understand how stress contributes to the development of mental illness. The lab has two main streams:

  1. In the first stream, we aim to understand what happens to the cells and molecules in the human brain after stress exposure or in mental illness. To do this, we study human brains donated to science by people who used to live with a mental illness and/or had very stressful lives. Tiny slivers of brain or pieces no larger than the size of a pea are used to pinpoint differences in the shapes, numbers, orientation and connections of brain cells, as well as what is happening inside them from the level of the gene to the protein. This research provides the fundamental knowledge needed to develop new treatments and interventions.
  2. In the second stream, we aim to understand what are the long-term and sustained effects of stress on the human body, and then to build a framework for identifying people who are at risk to mental illness and ways to improve their resilience. Our group is also interested in how the effects of stress and trauma can be transmitted from parent to offspring, therefore having transgenerational impact. To address these questions, we study biological samples  – including saliva, mouth swabs, blood, and breast milk – and psychological data from people and communities who have been heavily stress exposed. By studying human tissues and fluids that are easily accessible and minimally invasive to collect, this research provides the possibility to develop ways to (a) screen for people at risk to the detrimental effects of stress, (b) identify who could benefit from specific treatments and interventions, and (c) design those treatment and interventions.

Our values in and out of the lab

Scientific excellence, impactful research, collaboration, openness and authenticity, training and connecting the next generation of scientists with world leaders, enthusiasm, creating an environment that is positive and encourages teamwork and generosity.

View Dr Natalie Matosin's Scholars page

Contact nmatosin@uow.edu.au for more information.

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