Alec Becvarovski

Three honours students kick start their research careers

In 2019 three students from the University of Wollongong (UOW) were awarded funding to continue their dementia research at the Illawarra Health and Medical Research Institute (IHMRI).

The Miller Family Bridgewater IHMRI Dementia Scholarships, administered by UOW’s Advancement Division, provide prospective Honours students with an opportunity to develop skills and training in dementia research in the Illawarra region.

“We are very grateful for this ongoing support into dementia research here in the Illawarra,” said Distinguished Professor David J. Adams, IHMRI’s CEO and Executive Director.

“I also want to congratulate the winners and wish them the best in pursuing their research projects to find the cause and better treatments for dementia,” he added.

Lauren Rice

Lauren Rice

Lauren Rice

Lauren Rice has been awarded one of the scholarships to continue her project,  Developing single molecule techniques to monitor alpha synuclein elongation and its inhibition by small heat shock proteins.

Lauren’s interest in this area of research was sparked after losing her uncle to Parkinson’s disease and her father to complications of dementia and type 1 diabetes.

“My project this year has been focussed around one of the major pathological hallmarks of Parkinson’s Disease, explained Ms Rice. “It is a protein called alpha-synuclein, and it misfolds and sticks together in neuronal cells, forming long fibrils whose formation results in the death of the cells. As the cells die the symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease and a type of Dementia called Lewy Body Dementia begins to develop.” 

“Hopefully by learning these molecular mechanisms about the proteins that cause dementia, in the future there might be a way for medicine to mimic the process to stop the progression of devastating diseases.”

Kristian Claesson

Kristian Claesson

Kristian Claesson. Photo supplied.

Lauren and another winner, Kristian Claesson are both supervised by Professor Heath Ecroyd and Distinguished Professor Antoine van Oijen.

Kristian Claesson will be using the money to continue his research into, Using single molecule techniques to study how chaperone proteins interact with aggregation-prone proteins.

“My project uses single molecule techniques to examine the molecular mechanisms of how small heat shock proteins function. Small heat shock proteins are a family of molecular chaperones that act as a first line of defence to protect us against protein aggregation through interacting with misfolded proteins,” said Mr Claesson. “We hope that this research will eventually lead to the identification of potential therapeutic targets aimed at preventing and treating diseases associated with protein aggregation,” 

Mr Claesson says he aspires to continue in the field of biomedical research and wants to complete a PhD to pursue a career in dementia research.

“Because dementia is such a widespread disease affecting so many individuals, I have a personal interest in research surrounding and understanding and treating disease,” he added.

Alec Becvarovski

Alec Becvarovski

Alec Becvarovski

The third scholarship was awarded to Alec Becvarovski for his project, Cannabidiol (CBD) in the prevention of neurotoxicity and oxidative stress mediated by Dopamine-2 receptor hyperactivity.

“Many of these diseases are devastating to patients and their families, they are aggressive and progress quickly and in a sense researchers need to be equally aggressive and determined to find new answers and treatments,” said Alec Becvarovski.

Alex’s supervisor is Distinguished Professor Xu-Feng Huang.

Scholarship enables success

In 2017, Gabrielle Phillips was a Miller Family Bridgewater IHMRI Dementia Scholarship recipient. For Ms Phillips the Scholarship provided crucial support at the start of her research career. She is now undertaking a PhD at IHMRI, supervised by Associate Professor Todd Mitchell.

“My honours research looked into the region-specific biochemistry of the brain in Huntington’s disease, we found really interesting relationships between the most significantly affected brain regions and their lipid profiles.”

“The funding allowed me to focus solely on my research leading up to submitting my thesis. I could afford to reduce my work hours and still pay my living expenses. It made a huge difference to my research and I’m very thankful to Professor Miller for allowing me to work on a project that was very close to home,” she stated.

And her message to this year’s winners:

“First off, congratulations! Use your scholarship to support yourself and focus in on your work; hopefully publishing a paper with significant discoveries at the end!”

Watch video of Gabrielle

Related stories

Parkinson’s disease research in the Illawarra

Media contact

Louise Negline, Communications Coordinator

t: 4221 4702

m: 0417 044 867


Top photo: Alec Becvarovski. Photo by Paul Jones.

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