Are worms the key to understanding brains?
Thanks to a generous legacy created by the late Mary Overton, Dr Yee Lian Chew is on the way to finding out!
Like Laura and her family (click here for Laura's story) whose experience at Flinders inspired them to give back to the wonderful people who cared for them, Ida Mary Overton, a generous donor to the arts and medical research space, left a lasting legacy to Flinders Foundation after her passing in 2002.
Mrs Overton came to be associated with Flinders Medical Centre many years ago when her niece was admitted into the Intensive and Critical Care Unit at Flinders for an emergency procedure.
Thanks to her generosity, the Mary Overton Fellowship was introduced, which has so far seen four fellowships awarded, bringing international neuroscience research experts to Flinders for five-year terms.
Dr Chew was awarded the Fellowship in 2021 for research in neuroscience, using tiny worms to understand how human brains learn, with hopes of helping those with chronic pain and neurodegenerative disorders.
Using Nematodes, one of the smallest worm species, Dr Chew is seeking to understand how the brain learns in one of the simpler forms of animal life – including both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ learning.
“There are about 100 billion nerve cells in the human brain, but that’s just too big for us to explore in great detail,” Dr Chew explains.
“In contrast, the worm has about 300 neurons, which is few enough that we can name all of them and know exactly how each one is connected to one another.
“Because we know worms can also learn, we know there must be something pretty fundamental in those 300 neurons so we’re trying to solve what that is.”
By labelling the worm’s neurons with a fluorescent protein, Dr Chew can image their brains, visualise changes, and tag neurons with activity sensors. It’s knowledge she hopes will contribute to a greater understanding of neurodegenerative processes and chronic pain management research in humans.
“This generous support will make such a difference for our project as it gives us funding security and allows us to think further into the future to really work on finding something no one else knows,”
Dr Chew says.
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Other stories from our Summer 2022 Newsletter
Dianne Evans was one of the first patients to enjoy the new mobile sensory projector equipment that are providing support to patients with dementia and cognitive impairment at Flinders Medical Centre and Noarlunga Hospital. Read More
Thanks to your generous support of our recent appeal, a new child protection space at Flinders is starting to take shape! Read More
The Paediatric Emergency Department (ED) is a busy place where children, their families and staff are regularly faced with stressful situations. Read More
Laura doesn’t remember the Intensive Critical Care Unit (ICCU) staff at Flinders Medical Centre saving her life, but she will never forget the amazing care and compassion they showed her and her family. Read More
Nearing the end of her rehabilitation, Laura cast aside her wheelchair to walk into the ICCU to see all the staff who took such incredible care of her. Read More
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