Dr Lila Landowski - Neuroscientist

Sunday, 21 July 2019 - 3:06pm

Dr Lila Landowski – Neuroscientist

Published originally by LOIS magazine.

As a young girl growing up in Hobart, Lila Landowski loved exploring the environment and catching lizards and fish. “I caught my first fish at a school camp on Maria Island when I was in grade four,” Dr. Landowski explains. “There I was, holding a fish - a Banded Morwong - with its thick cloying slime sticking to my fingers. I had heard that shark-liver oil could perform miracles for your health (which is not actually true), and I wondered if the fish I was holding possessed medicinal properties too”. This slimy fish made an impact. “On that day I actually decided that when I grew up I wanted to find a fish extract that could be used to help people.”

Fast forward to 2019, Dr. Lila Landowski is “living her dream” and working in therapeutic development and contributing to medical research after completing her doctorate five years ago. Dr. Landowski is currently researching stroke and fatigue and is revolutionising the way stroke drugs are developed, the way we learn about what happens in the brain during stroke, and why the hell we are all so tired?

Stroke is a leading cause of death and disability worldwide. Every 9 minutes, someone in Australia suffers a stroke and there’s only one drug that can be used to treat stroke victims. However, this drug can only be used in a limited set of circumstances. So, overall if you have a stroke in Australia, there’s about a 10% chance you’ll get to have this treatment, and even if you have it, there’s a 50% chance it won’t help and you’ll still die or be left permanently disabled.

The lack of existing treatments for stroke is not for want of trying. Scientists have been trying to develop treatments for stroke for the better part of 70 years. There have been well over 1000 treatments developed that work pre-clinically in models of stroke, but only one of them works in humans. Why don’t they work in humans? The problem lies in the way these drugs are tested, which isn’t perfect, and Dr. Landowski and her team have devised a clever alternative that uses nanoparticles.

With the support of funding from the Royal Hobart Research Foundation, Dr. Landowski,  Professor David Howells and PHD student Allanna Russell are working on developing a new model for testing these potential therapies, so that future drug development can be more successful and we can better understand what happens in the brain after a stroke occurs.

“Ultimately, we hope this new stroke model gets adopted by scientists around the world, resulting in new drugs being developed for people who have suffered from a stroke. “Research is rarely a linear process, and we’ve suffered some setbacks that have turned the process into a bit of a winding journey. With the help of some collaborators at Monash University, as well as local collaborators like Dr. Curtis Ho from the UTAS Chemistry Department and Dr. Jim Palfreyman from Astrophysics, we’ve got some new nanoparticles which we are trialling in experiments to help us achieve our goal,” she said.

Another field of research for Dr. Landowski is fatigue and its effects on the brain. We all experience what we describe as fatigue or being tired on a daily basis. Fatigue is much more than just a sense of tiredness. A fatigued person might also suffer from headaches, muscle weakness, slowed reflexes and coordination, cognitive impairment (trouble thinking clearly) and reduced motivation. Together these effects can hamper peoples’ ability to perform the simplest of daily activities. Fatigue is the most common “unexplainable” complaint encountered by General Practitioners. It can also be a debilitating symptom of many diseases and disorders, some mild such as the common cold, some less so like cancer, stroke, multiple sclerosis and depression.

“We don’t know what happens in the brain to make us feel fatigued. Just like we need energy to go about our day, our brain needs the same energy to function efficiently.

“I am part of a team of neuroscientists, including PHD student Catherine Foster, at the School of Medicine (UTAS), investigating whether fatigue results from an energy deficit in the brain. From our work so far, it looks like the hypothalamus, one of the regions of the brain important for regulating functions like metabolism and circadian rhythms, is affected in fatigue,” Dr. Landowski explains.

It’s hard to imagine how someone who is researching such complex science can “ironically” rest her brain and wind down. When asked how she likes to unwind Dr. Landowski said “I either exercise, soak in a hot bath, or fill my online shopping cart with things I want, and then subsequently close the window when I see the final price!” she laughed. Sound familiar?