$42.5m neuroscience facility opens

By Melissa Trudinger
Wednesday, 13 August, 2003

Brain and mind disorders, watch out -- Australia's neuroscience researchers are coming after you.

That's the message from the National Neuroscience Facility (NNF), whose Melbourne headquarters were formally opened by Victorian Innovation Minister John Brumby on Tuesday.

The AUD$42.5 million major national research facility links together neuroscience researchers from universities and research institutes around Melbourne, and will offer world-class platform technologies to neuroscientists around Australia.

"It's an affirmation of the determination of Australian neurosciences to be competitive at the highest international level," said Prof Ed Byrne, deputy chair of the NNF's governing body Neurosciences Australia. "Australian scientists want to have a piece of the action."

Byrne, who is now director of the Centre for Neuroscience at the University of Melbourne, along with NSA CEO Assoc Prof William Hart, came up with the concept of a neuroscience consortium, setting in train the events that led to Neurosciences Victoria and through that organisation to Neurosciences Australia and the NNF.

Funded by an $18 million MNRF grant from the Federal government, a further $4.5 million from the Victorian State government, and more from the NSV and member institutes, the NNF will focus on understanding and developing treatments for a variety of brain and mind conditions, including Alzheimer's Disease, Parkinson's Disease, stroke, drug and alcohol addiction, epilepsy, and mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and psychosis.

Member institutes include the University of Melbourne, Monash University, the Howard Florey Institute, the National Stroke Research Institute, the Brain Research Institute, the Mental Health Research Institute and the Centre for Eye Research Australia.

"The most important thing is that this facility will strive to answer the big questions of how we think, feel and behave," said Brumby at the opening.

Australia's chief scientist Dr Robin Batterham said that the NNF would be a magnet for neuroscientists both within Australia and overseas, and praised the organisation for not just considering the research itself, but the commercial outcomes of the research. Neurosciences Victoria has a number of agreements in place with commercial organisations including Melbourne company Prana Biotechnology, German pharmaceutical company Schering and Japan's Nissho Iwai Corporation.

But other areas of scientific excellence warranted similar opportunities, he said.

"We need more rather than less pillars of strength, and that's a challenge," Batterham told the crowd at the opening.

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