For researchers

Along with project grants, BRNZ have dedicated a significant amount of funding to research platforms in 2015. These platforms are designed to support multiple projects. They typically include provision of expertise in the form of Postdoctoral fellows, as well as technical support or access to clinical/cohort samples. In 2015 BRNZ allocated funding to four research platforms, one of these will begin in 2016. This is in addition to funding the establishment of a network of Dementia Research Clinics across New Zealand.

Marama Viral Vectors & Optogenetics Platform

Viral Vector/Optogenetic Platform – Dr Stephanie Hughes and Dr Louise Parr-Brownlie

Many of BRNZ's studies are supported by one of our research platforms – Mārama. This platform uses inactivated viruses to deliver genes of interest to various regions of the brain, either to directly treat brain disorders or to deliver molecules such as light-sensitive proteins for research or therapeutic purposes.

Light of specific wavelengths is used to activate or switch off these proteins, and thus regulate the activity and plasticit of nerve cells. Mārama helps to facilitate research projects by examining how ‘optogenetics’ can be used to stimulate and restore brain activity which has been altered in models of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, and during tinnitus and memory loss.

The viral vector and optogenetic stimulation technology platform has four areas of expertise including:

1. Experimental design to ensure modulation of specific neuronal phenotypes or tracing anatomical pathways.

2. Design and packaging of constructs into appropriate viral vectors.

3. Introduction of the vectors to cultured neurons, brain slices or specific nuclei in the brain.

4. Knowledge of the range of stimulation protocols/light/frequency and construct controls.

The platform offers a general viral vector facility to supply AAV and lentiviruses, and importantly for development of new constructs for a variety of BRNZ applications.


Dr Louise Parr-Brownlie


Dr Stephanie Hughes


BARISTa: Biomarkers & Recovery In Stroke Platform

BARISTa: Biomarkers And Recovery in Stroke – Associate Professor Cathy Stinear and Associate Professor Debbie Young

Stroke is yet another major ageing-related neurological disorder. In order to identify molecules that relate to stroke damage and potential for repair and predict recovery, BRNZ has funded a research platform called BARISTa (Biomarkers And Recovery In Stroke).

The BARISTa tissue bank collects blood samples from people who have recently had a stroke, as well as from people who haven’t experienced a stroke, for comparison.

BARISTa also collects detailed clinical information, and together these form a valuable resource for researchers. Two researchers have thus far been granted access to BARISTa to study biomarkers of recovery after stroke.

BARISTa collects clinical and demographic data, and blood and urine samples, from people admitted to Auckland Hospital with stroke.

Clinical data and samples are collected within 48 hours of stroke, and again at one week, one month and three months after stroke.

Clinical data and samples are also collected from healthy older adults for comparison. The tissue bank already has tissue banked for BRNZ researchers to use in their projects.



Associate Professor Cathy Stinear


Associate Professor Debbie Young


Alzheimer’s disease Biomarker Discovery & Drug Testing Platform

Alzheimer’s disease biomarker discovery and drug testing platform – Professor Mike Dragunow

Many projects are underway to identify biomarkers of Alzheimer’s disease. These projects aim to understand the contribution of particular brain molecules in the disease pathophysiology. Already an initial screen of Alzheimer’s bloods have identified particular members of a class of molecules called microRNA as a potential diagnostic of Alzheimer’s disease.

Our researchers are trying to find out if these biomarkers are indicative of changes in the same molecules in the brain. They are using banked post-mortem human tissues, as well as microRNA in a mouse model. Meanwhile a patent application is being prepared in order to protect the intellectual property of this possible blood test for Alzheimer’s Disease. 

Another project investigates post-mortem human brain tissue and the expression of enzymes in the urea cycle. The urea cycle is shown to be abnormally upregulated in Alzheimer’s disease. The working hypothesis is that these changes arise to metabolise and thus cope with the rise of brain ammonia to toxic levels.

This platform provides our investigators access to high-throughput Alzheimer’s disease target discovery, validation and testing.

The platform leverages existing techniques such as human brain tissue microarray (TMA), automated microscopy, high content image analysis and human brain cell culture. The platform studies underlying mechanisms and biomarkers for AD and directly tests compounds on AD-derived human brain cells.

A 0.5 FTE post-doctoral fellow leads/directs the image acquisition, analysis, collation and interpretation of the data for platform users and collaborators.


Professor Mike Dragunow


MR Imaging in the Dunedin Longitudinal Cohort Platform

MR imaging in the Dunedin longitudinal cohort – Professor Richie Poulton

The Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study (DMHDS) is an ongoing, longitudinal study of the health, development and well-being of a general sample of New Zealanders.

It’s the first time that this world leading longitudinal study will undertake brain scans of participants. Many of whom are now undergoing early signs of ageing, even at age 43. MRI Scans will be performed from 2016 to 2019.

They were studied at birth (1972-73), followed up and assessed at the age of three when the longitudinal study was established.

Since then they were assessed every two years until the age of 15, then at ages 18 (1990-91), 21 (1993-94), 26 (1998-99), 32 (2003-2005), and 38 (2010- 2012).

It is planned to next see the Study members at age 44/45 and beyond. This platform will provide investigators with the opportunity to access the Dunedin Study database, amassed over 40+ years on many aspects of human health and development, to better understand individual differences in brain function and structure.

With repeated fMRI measures over time, a range of developmental hypotheses can be tested.

• Test hypotheses of polygenic risk for accelerated ageing.
• Identify treatable developmental origins of accelerated ageing.
• Characterise individuals who show a resilient pace of ageing.


Professor Richie Poulton