Local brain research uncovers positive impact right here in Tasmania

Friday, 4 June 2021 - 4:05pm

You may have spotted local researcher Dr Dino Premilovac in some of our communications over the last few years, often sporting a white coat talking all things “brain research”, but at times more casually attired, introducing us to his young family with whom he loves to spend time bushwalking and camping around Tasmania.

However, spare time is rare in the life of a researcher and there has been plenty of vital work going on behind the scenes in local labs that will have significant impact for years to come. In fact two of Dino’s recent RHHRF research grants have now concluded and the outcomes will see positive change for the Tasmanian community and those further afield.

As a researcher Dr Premilovac tells us that being able to complete a project that will have vital impact is hard to describe.

“It’s hard to convey the exact feeling you get when completing a funded project, but it involves a mix of satisfaction, pride, excitement and relief! It’s fantastic to see the ideas that we work on for a long time produce really promising data, such as in the much-needed area of brain research.”

 Dino’s message is simple. He emphasises why community support and funding is so important. Without support from the RHHRF and sponsors like Blundstone, who generously funded one of Dino’s recent studies, these exciting research opportunities simply could not have gone ahead.

“I don’t know if it's common knowledge, but medical research is very expensive and science in general in Australia is severely underfunded. Having a local funding body like the RHHRF, one that provides opportunities for research grants with impact in Tasmania, is really important.

 “This means that medical research can take place in Tasmania and produce benefits not only for Tasmanians, but for the rest of Australia as well. Being able run research projects means we can train honours and PhD students in our teams. This means that local research funding enables us to recruit and train a new generation of medical researchers right here in Tasmania,” he said.

Dino explains that he feels driven every day to find out more as a researcher and confesses that he feels lucky that he gets to learn more about how our bodies work while also having the opportunity to research ways to treat the many diseases and conditions that are all too common in our community.

“I really enjoy learning more about how our bodies work. In particular, I am driven to understand how the smallest blood vessels in our bodies, the capillaries, work to supply each of the cells in our body with glucose and oxygen. This is an exciting area to be involved with because problems with capillary blood flow underpin almost all diseases that affect us, including stroke, heart disease, cancer and even obesity and type 2 diabetes. If we can better understand how capillaries work, we might be able to develop new drugs to treat these diseases,” he said.

Dino said despite the wealth of information gained in the last 10-20 years scientists are still at the tip of the iceberg when it comes to understanding how the brain works and how to fix brain disorders. The two Incubator Grants (2019 and 2020) that Dr Premilovac and his team have finalised are related to stroke and getting drugs to the brain when diseases are present.

“Stroke is one of the biggest killers of people in Tasmania and around the world. The only treatment we have for people that have a stroke is to remove the blood clot to restore blood flow to the brain. There is currently very little we can do to improve recovery from stroke. In our first study, we were able to show that a drug called Idebenone protects the brain from further damage after a stroke. This is really promising data, but we still need to do more investigation with this drug to understand exactly how it works to do this and what the potential side-effects of Idebenone might be.

 “A major issue with the drugs we give to people to treat brain diseases like stroke is the off-target effects the drugs have on other parts of the body. Thanks to funding from the RHHRF, we have developed a new way of concentrating drug delivery to the brain using ultrasound. This technology is completely safe to use in people and allows us to increase drug delivery to the brain while reducing the off-target effects on other organs. Our next challenge is to see if we can apply this new technology to improve drug delivery in the context of brain disorders such as brain cancer and stroke so that ultimately we can improve health outcomes,” he said.

While the RHHRF commends Dino and his team for such outstanding work, we know that this wouldn’t be possible without the support of our donors and corporate partners. Thank you!

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