Under the microscope

On the mend: Honours student Angelo Lopez and Associate Professor Fabienne Brilot-Turville hope their research will contribute to major changes in clinical medicine.

On the mend: Honours student Angelo Lopez and Associate Professor Fabienne Brilot-Turville hope their research will contribute to major changes in clinical medicine.

It’s hoped medical research in a Westmead lab will lead to better outcomes for patients with brain immune diseases.

Associate Professor Fabienne Brilot-Turville heads the brain autoimmunity lab at the Institute for Neuroscience and Muscle Research at The Children's Hospital at Westmead. Her research focuses on the detection of autoantibodies in brain immune-mediated diseases and has expanded to adults.

Her team has discovered a certain type of autoantibody is a biomarker for brain myelin disorders in certain patients, which indicates the presence of the disease or that the disease may occur.

“For children and adults with certain diseases of the brain, the myelin, the white matter around nerves in the brain, has degenerated,” Professor Brilot-Turville said. “The condition is distinct from but similar to multiple sclerosis (MS). It’s a cousin in the big family that is MS. Our research means we can take patients out of the MS pool and treat them more appropriately.”

She hopes the research will reduce drug-related secondary adverse effects in patients, increase savings for the healthcare system and improve patient outcomes.

Professor Brilot-Turville also heads a testing referral centre at Westmead which provides autoantibody testing for diagnosis and sees 1500 patients each year.

Her research was among 100 University of Sydney applied medical science projects recently launched at its Westmead campus offered as part of a medical science honours program which started this year.

Other projects include improving the success rate of human organ transplants, sleep disorders, breast cancer, stopping the transmission of HIV and effective treatments for Crohn’s disease.

It coincided with the launch of an applied medical sciences major to be taught at Westmead from next year.

“The honours program and new major in applied medical science at Westmead are harnessing the expertise and specialised facilities of the research institutes and hospitals of the area to educate our future scientific leaders,” University of Sydney vice-chancellor Dr Michael Spence said.

“With these programs we are addressing crucial health issues at the same time as creating new employment opportunities for scientists in western Sydney.”

Faculty of Science Dean Professor Trevor Hambley added: “The enthusiastic uptake of these programs is evidence students recognise the quality of the opportunities on offer. They are made possible by the world-class expertise of medical science staff based at Westmead.”

Professor Brilot-Turville is excited about the university’s future at Westmead.

“It will be a fantastic venture to have everyone come together at the biggest health precinct in Australia.”

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