Interview with Dr Amy Reichelt

Dr Reichelt is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Adelaide Medical School.

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Dr Reichelt shares insights into her research between obesity and diet and neurodegeneration and traumatic brain injury.

What motivated you to pursue this area of research? What did you study?

Poor nutrition in the form of high fat and sugar diets and obesity are major risk factors for neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. My research program revolves around the impact of nutrition and obesity on brain function. Diet is a modifiable lifestyle factor and food is a massive part of our lives - I find that the importance of what we eat and how it affects our brain health is an incredibly exciting field to be in. In a nutshell, my research seeks to understand how poor diets and obesity change cognitive abilities. By understanding what a poor diet does to brain function we can discover new interventions that not only reverse the effects of obesity on the brain, but also identify therapies that can augment brain function in neurodegenerative conditions.

Tell us about this new research project - what are you looking for and why?

An exciting part of my research program has been identifying that obesity can weaken the specialised delicate network of extracellular matrix structures that surrounds neurons – called perineuronal nets. These perineuronal nets form a protective barrier around neurons and can control how often nerve impulses are transmitted between adjoining neurons. If perineuronal nets become compromised, neurons are left vulnerable to injury. So, diet and body composition might be a critical mediating factor that dictates the immediate severity of a TBI on brain function and the long-term road to recovery. This new study will provide cutting-edge insight into the functional and molecular changes that happen to the extracellular matrix and neurons when both an obesogenic diet is consumed, and different severities of traumatic brain injuries – ranging from mild to moderate are sustained.

What do you hope your research will achieve and why?

Modifying the structure of perineuronal nets is an emerging neurosurgical therapy for spinal cord injuries - but this research is further ahead from what we know about the extracellular matrix in the injured brain. Overall, a major aim of my research program is the discovery of effective new approaches and applied therapies that will target the brain’s extracellular matrix to improve cognitive outcomes in brain injuries. I hope that my research will have dramatic positive impacts on people’s wellbeing by identifying effective treatments for TBI and predict recovery outcomes following a brain injury.

What are some of the key statistics regarding TBI and neurodegeneration in Australia?

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, affecting one 1 in 4 people over 85 in Australia, with rarer early onset cases often linked to genetic predispositions. Parkinson’s disease affects 1 in 350 Australians, and mainly affects people over 65, but can have an earlier onset. Following a TBI, you're likely at greatest risk of developing dementia later if you also have other risk factors. These can be genetic, but body composition may also play a key role as obesity causes a low level of inflammation throughout the body and brain – exacerbating neurodegeneration. Long-term studies indicate that obesity in mid-life increases the future risk for the development of dementia by 70-100%. Taken together, the combination of obesity and TBI creates the perfect storm for neurodegenerative diseases.

What is one thing that people do not understand about TBI that you would like to communicate to a broader audience or raise awareness of?

Most patients who sustain a mild TBI (e.g. a concussion) recover normal functionality within 3 months. However, a significant number of patients – between 15-30% - experience persistent dysfunction that can endure for years. I want to identify the biological factors that cause certain people to have bleaker prognoses for recovery, which will then allow tailored therapies for these at-risk individuals.

Please donate now to the NRF Traumatic Brain Injury Appeal.

Brain Injury Awareness Week 2020

Traumatic Brain injury (TBI) is the leading cause of disability and death worldwide

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Did you know that as many as 60 million people suffering from a brain injury or brain damage each year.
Many of these people will develop long-lasting neuropsychiatric and cognitive impairments. And while researchers know brain injury and head injury is linked to dementia and Parkinson’s disease in later life, they still don’t know how.
With your support, we can fund these life-changing research projects:

TBI is a risk factor for Parkinson's Disease

Did you know that a traumatic brain injury is a major risk factor for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease?
Listen here to Assoc Prof Lyndsey Collins-Praino from the University of Adelaide speaking about this important area of research.
Watch the video here:

Interview with TBI researcher Jessica Sharkey

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To focus on Brain Injury Awareness Week we are sharing an interview with Jessica Sharkey, a PhD Candidate at the University of Adelaide whose research is focused on traumatic brain injury.

We are promoting Brain Injury Awareness Week which is held by Brain Injury SA

Here at the NRF, we are funding research focused on Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) in children.
One of the current projects is focused on Concussion in children and is led by Assoc Prof Lyndsey Collins-Praino and Dr Frances Corrigan at the University of Adelaide. TBI is common during childhood and adolescence, with most injuries classified as mild (concussions), but these can still have long-lasting consequences.

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