Flinders Medical Centre Foundation
Flinders Medical Centre Foundation


Flinders in Global Search for Anorexia Genes

Tuesday, 08 April 2014 11:09

Flinders University Professor Tracey Wade is collaborating with researchers worldwide in a global effort to identify genes that cause eating disorders.


Professor Wade, Dean of the School of Psychology, is one of three Australian investigators on the Anorexia Nervosa Genetics Initiative - a major international study to detect genetic risk-factors for anorexia nervosa, in the ultimate aim of finding a cure.


Researchers in the United States, Australia, Sweden and Denmark are trying to collect 25,000 blood samples from individuals who have suffered anorexia nervosa at any point in their lives by 2016, with more than 1,800 samples currently on the database.


Professor Wade said the study, funded by US philanthropic group the Klarman Family Foundation, aimed to identify a group of common genes among the samples that could act as a marker for anorexia nervosa and related disorders.


"Numerous studies in twins and families around the world have shown that eating disorders run in families, not because of a shared environment but because of shared genes," Professor Wade said.


"We know genes play a role in eating disorders but we don't know which ones. While researchers have tried to detect these genes, a common finding hasn't emerged due to a lack of samples," she said.


"From similar work done in schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, you really only start to see a consistent picture when you have 20,000-plus samples, which is why we're working in a collaborative group spanning several countries to reach our target.


"No-one expects to find a single gene or even a handful of genes because anorexia nervosa is such a complex disorder, but we do hope to detect a discrete group of genes that can help us identify risk."


By understanding the genetic profile of anorexia nervosa, Professor Wade said researchers would be able to individualise treatments.


"In a study treating post-traumatic stress disorder, researchers identified a certain combination of genes that were less responsive to treatment. If we detected something similar in anorexia, it means we could tailor our treatments accordingly.


"The conventional approach is stepped care, so we offer a small amount of treatment to see whether they get better, then intensify it if they don't improve, to the final option which is hospitalisation.


"But by knowing the genetic risk factors from the start, we could tailor treatments to prevent people from having a lengthy but unproductive course of treatment."


Professor Wade said data would also be collected about the type and course of anorexia nervosa, thereby broadening scientific knowledge of the complex disease.


"Anorexia doesn't discriminate - it affects girls and boys, women and men, and in my view it's the most difficult psychiatric disorder to treat.


"With depression, schizophrenia and bipolar there are medications and cognitive behavioural treatments that help but with anorexia there's also a medical component because those affected by it are starving themselves, which is not only life-threatening but impairs their ability to think clearly."


Source: Flinders University




A brainwave for epilepsy treatment

Tuesday, 08 April 2014 09:36

A Flinders University team are analysing high frequency brain waves in the hopes of finding a method to better prevent epileptic seizures and possibly some other neurological disorders.

A long term study by the team in the Brain Signals Laboratory at Flinders showed that rats with epilepsy had stronger-than-usual high-frequency electrical activity of the brain as measured by EEG (electroencephalography).

They found that the strength of the rat's high-frequency brainwave output increased prior to the time of a seizure.

"Preliminary data obtained from humans also seems to show that those of us who are prone to epileptic seizures also emit stronger-than-usual high-frequency activity," Professor John Willoughby said.

However, the team has also discovered these readings contained interference because of the electrical activity of the muscles of the scalp.


To combat this problem the team have become human guinea pigs for their own research - allowing themselves to be paralysed while awake and ventilated in a highly controlled environment to enable high frequency brain waves to be measured without interference from muscles.

"So far we have had six volunteers undertake the procedure, including myself and members of our team," Professor Willoughby said. 

Dr Anne Louise Smith (pictured) is the only female studied so far and the team has ethics approval to study two more females. 

"Volunteers have special qualities," Professor Willoughby emphasised!

"By measuring healthy individuals who have been paralysed, we know we are obtaining data which is not contaminated by any muscle activity.

"We are now working on mathematical methods to determine what we can do to reduce the interference from muscles in the data we have already collected.

"We are having some success in this."

It is hoped findings from this study will help doctors or patients with epilepsy better anticipate when they will have a seizure, or to determine the effectiveness of treatments.

"Currently the only reliable way to determine whether a course of anti-epilepsy drug treatment will work is to wait and see whether the patient has another seizure," Professor Willoughby said.

This research could also greatly benefit some other conditions including migraine, in which the team has found early evidence is that there is inhibited EEG output which they say is likely caused by a phenomenon known as "cortical spreading depression".

The team has measured the EEG output of more than 600 patients with a range of neuropsychiatric illnesses including epilepsy, migraine, bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, multiple sclerosis, stroke, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases, to determine if there are correlations of the disease with brain EEG outputs.


You can donate to support this research at www.teamflinders.com.au


Baby Charlie makes national headlines!

Thursday, 13 March 2014 14:49

Baby Charlie and father Rob van Driel have had a big few weeks!


Since launching the Daddy's Little Legend Neonatal Appeal in December, they've raised more than $20,000 towards a Retcam which will help diagnose blinding eye conditions in the FMC Neonatal Unit.


From Charlie stealing the show at a political press conference, to making a national appearance on the news.com.au homepage, Rob and Charlie's story is touching the hearts of people across Australia.


To read Rob's personal story about why he became a Daddy on a Mission click here, or to support our appeal for a $177,000 Retcam for the FMC Neonatal Unit please visit www.daddyslittlelegend.com. You can also follow the appeal's progress on Rob's Facebook page.



Thursday, 13 March 2014 14:45

Anti-inflammatory steroids are known to increase the risk of diabetes in high doses, but now researchers from Flinders University have discovered a link between low dose steroids and diabetes.


As part of her just-completed PhD in the School of Medicine, Dr Carolyn Petersons (pictured) studied the effect of anti-inflammatory steroids on the body's ability to metabolise glucose - a key factor in diabetes - in a sample of patients who were taking the drug in low doses to treat rheumatoid arthritis.


The study analysed nine patients given anti-inflammatory steroids for rheumatoid arthritis for a one-week period and compared the results with 12 long-term steroid users.


Anti-inflammatory steroids are traditionally administered post-transplant and to treat a range of autoimmune disorders such as inflammatory bowel disease. In rheumatoid arthritis, steroids may help relieve pain and discomfort, reduce swelling and provide better joint function and mobility.


While steroids have been previously found to raise blood sugar levels in high doses, which can lead to diabetes, Dr Petersons said her study showed low doses also had a similar effect.


"Low dose steroids are prescribed to about one per cent of the population but until now, no one has really studied the effect of low doses over a long period of time," Dr Petersons said.


"Essentially what my research found is that a low dose of steroids - even after a week - increase the amount of glucose (sugar) your body makes when fasting," she said.


"We looked at how sensitive the patient's body was to insulin before and during steroid use and found that the steroids made them less sensitive to insulin.


"If you're less sensitive to insulin it means your blood sugar levels are going to be higher because insulin

works to lower blood sugar levels, and too much sugar in the blood leads to diabetes."


Based on the results, Dr Petersons said doctors should rethink prescribing anti-inflammatory steroids in conditions requiring low doses over a prolonged period.


"Knowing how steroids affect insulin sensitivity in the body means we can find the right kind of treatment to target the underlying cause of the diabetes, but it also means we need to be more vigilant in screening patients so we don't miss people who have steroid-induced diabetes.


"Finally, we should be looking at alternative ways to treat these conditions instead of using steroids, particularly in patients who may be at high risk of developing diabetes.


The study was published in Diabetes Care, a leading journal of the American Diabetes Association, in print in September 2013, and was recently named one of Flinders University's Best Student Research Paper Awards for 2013.


Source: Flinders University


SA Police Ride Like Crazy for Brain Tumour Bank

Thursday, 13 March 2014 13:58

Brain cancer research will get a much needed boost in Australia with SAPOL dedicating funds raised through their 2014 and 2015 Ride Like Crazy events to the Flinders Medical Centre Foundation to support the SA Neurological Tumour Bank.


The funding will allow the Flinders based bank to expand its service to provide much needed brain tumour tissue for vital research into brain cancers, a leading cause of death for young people and one of the most under-studied cancers in Australia.


The SA Neurological Tumour Bank provides an invaluable research resource of collected brain tumour tissue from consenting patients who undergo surgery. Flinders Medical Centre is one of two public hospitals in the state that conducts adult neurosurgery, with about 60 malignant and benign brain tumours removed at the hospital every year which could be stored in the new bank.


The bank will now also be able to store tissue from other hospitals and seek out rare tumour donors.


"Approximately 1600 new cases of brain and central nervous system cancers are diagnosed each year in Australia and survival rates are often in the lower percentage of cancer survivors," said Associate Professor Mark Slee, Director of the SA Brain and Neurological Tumour Banks.


Medical scientists will use donated tissue from the bank to better understand brain tumour types and their development, as well as facilitate the design of more robust and specific drug treatments.


"For example, Flinders neuroscience researchers plan to use proteomics and molecular biology in collaboration with surgeons and oncologists to study the different tumour types and healthy brains in the hope of better understanding the processes that lead to brain cancer," Assoc Prof Slee said.


SAPOL's Ride Like Crazy event started in 2009 with more than 600 riders taking part to support Senior Sergeant Mick 'Crazy' Koerner, who had been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour the year before.


Mick's passing the same year of the first ride cemented the need for more funds to support brain cancer research and resources like the SA Neurological Tumour Bank which will be utilised by researchers from around Australia to find cures, treatments and biomarkers for cancers of the brain and spinal cord.


"We are excited that our efforts will result in expanding such an important resource for brain cancer research in Australia," said Deputy Commissioner Grant Stevens. "In a few short years Ride Like Crazy has raised more than $835,000, which has funded the purchase of vital equipment and seen significant research advances take place."


"Since 2011 Ride Like Crazy has donated over $320,000 to support the ground-breaking work underway at Flinders," said Deb Palmer, Executive Director of the FMC Foundation.


"We are extremely grateful for their kind generosity and awareness of the importance of funding our bright minds as they seek answers for those affected by cancer," she said.


Ride Like Crazy was held on 19 January 2014.


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