Top WEHI researcher lured to UQ

By Pete Young
Friday, 30 August, 2002

The centre of gravity of Australian brain stem cell research has undergone a major shift with a change of residence by star researcher Prof Perry Bartlett and a large number of his team.

The internationally-recognised neuroscientist and about a dozen key players on his research team are exchanging the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute in Melbourne for the University of Queensland.

Bartlett will take up the Foundation Chair in Molecular Neuroscience at the university which is building a growing reputation as a hub for bioscience research.

However, it is believed the university is planning a world-class institute for brain research to be led by Bartlett, which may ultimately embrace 200 to 300 researchers.

Bartlett, who headed WEHI's Development and Neurobiology Group, has published more than 170 papers in science and medical journals, mostly in the area of developmental neuroscience.

His laboratory's work verifying the existence of adult brain stem cells captured world attention last year and demonstrated the existence of a single, predominant stem cell in the brain with the capacity to produce a variety of cell types.

He is currently exploring the possibility of using existing stem cells within the brain to create replacements for damaged nerve cells.

The University of Queensland is setting up a dedicated neuroscience initiative which will allow him to pursue aspects of neuroscience in more depth than the multidisciplinary WEHI permitted, Bartlett said.

As one example, it has installed a $1.2 million fluorescence-activated cell sorter which will be the first in Australia dedicated to neuroscience work.

"Instead of sharing it with immunologists and other people, we will be able to process with it 24 hours a day so our research will go a lot faster," he said.

The chance for younger members of his research team to expand their interests in the new environment was another reason for his change of venue, Bartlett said.

Many of them would have left WEHI for overseas positions if the Queensland opportunity had not occurred, he said.

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