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Common brain disorders are leading contributors to the global burden of disease, but critical knowledge gaps have hindered efforts to improve diagnosis, interventions and prognosis according to Mater Researcher, Associate Professor Jake Gratten.
Jake will use a $2.36 million National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Investigator Grant announced this week to harness the power of big data to hopefully fill those gaps for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and Parkinson’s disease.
“My research project will use statistical integration of large-scale genetics, genomics, clinical and lifestyle data to bridge critical knowledge gaps that have hindered efforts to improve the lives of people with neurodevelopmental and neurodegenerative disorders such as ASD and Parkinson’s disease,” Jake said.
“The Investigator Grant will allow me to capitalise on new developments in statistical methods, leading edge genomics technologies, and improved access to large-scale genetic studies, to help improve understanding of these two disorders.”
More than 160,000 Australians have ASD, and an estimated 100,000 live with Parkinson’s disease.
Nationally, nearly one third of NDIS recipients have a diagnosis of ASD, and the number of people with Parkinson’s disease is projected to double by 2040 as the population ages.
Jake said his project will have two themes. The first will seek to clarify causal factors, developmental trajectories, and predictors for common co-occurring conditions in ASD.
“We’ll particularly focus on gastrointestinal complaints, sleep problems, learning difficulties and anxiety, which are key determinants of quality of life for people with a diagnosis,” he said.
The second theme will see Jake lead international efforts to improve understanding of the molecular changes involved in the onset and progression of Parkinson’s disease.
“We are very interested in identifying gene targets for new drugs and therapies that address the causes of Parkinson’s disease instead of just symptoms,” he said.
“We’ll do this by using powerful genomics technologies to characterise gene expression changes in Parkinson’s at the level of single cells, from early- through to late-stage disease.”
“This program will also be important in building much needed national capacity in biostatistics, while contributing to international efforts to overcome previously intractable knowledge gaps in ASD and Parkinson’s disease.
“My hope is that this research will ultimately contribute to improved quality of life and better clinical outcomes for people with ASD and Parkinson’s disease, through earlier diagnosis and evidence-based interventions.”
Jake’s project will begin in 2023 and run for five years.
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