Future Fellowship fuels nerve research

damien2Ground-breaking research on how human cells communicate has earned Flinders University neuroscientist Dr Damien Keating [pictured] a prestigious Future Fellowship from the Australian Research Council.

The inaugural Future Fellowships, awarded to 200 outstanding national and international mid-career researchers, were announced today by the Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, Senator Kim Carr.

The scheme aims to address the gap in opportunities for mid-career researchers in Australia, which has led many talented researchers to search for work overseas. Fellows receive a salary of up to $135,000 for four years, with their institutions receiving up to $50,000 a year for associated infrastructure and other costs.

Flinders University’s interim Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research), Professor Andrew Beer, said the award reinforced the University’s reputation as a leader in fundamental science nationally and internationally.

“The award of this prestigious fellowship recognises both the outstanding calibre of the recipient and the expertise of the broader research community at Flinders,” Professor Beer said.

Dr Keating and his team are studying cell communication, focusing on neurons (nerve cells).

“We are particularly interested in the underlying molecular mechanisms, and the regulating role of certain proteins in the release of hormones and neurotransmitters,” Dr Keating said.

Dr Keating said as well as increasing fundamental knowledge of cell communication, the research has the potential to increase understanding of neurodegenerative diseases including Down Syndrome and Huntington’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.

“Having discovered novel roles for some of the proteins involved in nerve communication, we are trying to discover if they are part of the cascade of events which leads up to the end-point of these diseases,” he said.

“The Fellowship gives me an opportunity to immerse myself in pure research.”

Dr Keating, who has authored 11 scientific papers in the past three years, said he also saw the Fellowship as recognition of the strong research generated by a community of talented neuroscientists at Flinders.

“I’ve had a huge amount of professional support from the neuroscience community here,” he said.

Two Flinders academics have also been appointed to a principal committee of the National Health and Medical Research Council, the major government body responsible for funding health-related research.

Professor John Wakerman, Director of the Centre for Rural and Remote Health in Alice Springs, and Professor Mukesh Haikerwal of the Greater Green Triangle Department of Rural Health, were both made members of the NH&MRC’s new Health Care Committee.

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