Australia’s next generation of biotech researchers recognised in the AbbVie Student Poster Award


The important biotechnology research being carried out by graduate students in Australian universities was highlighted in a poster display at the AusBiotech 2015 conference, with the most outstanding being recognised with the AbbVie Student Poster Award.

Alistair Cole, a student in the Department of Anatomy and Neuroscience at the University of Melbourne, was named winner of the AbbVie Student Poster Award 2015.

Mr Cole received the award for his poster presentation, “The role of Bone Morphogenic Protein signalling in oligodendrocyte differentiation and myelination.”

In layman’s terms, the research is an attempt to understand the factors involved in myelin repair in the brain and spinal cord. Similar to insulation around electrical wiring, myelin insulates nerve cells (or neurons) in the central nervous system (CNS) and promotes rapid signal transmission throughout the body.

The loss of myelin in demyelinating diseases such as multiple sclerosis (MS) leads to many burdensome symptoms such as fatigue, dizziness, walking difficulties and impaired vision. These symptoms are initally episodic, but eventually become permanent as the neuron degenerates; this is thought to be due to lack of myelin support.

While specialised cells called oligodendrocytes can produce new myelin, this mechanism breaks down in chronic lesions. The reason for this eventual failure to regenerate new myelin has been linked to many factors, including the bone morphogenic proteins (BMPs).

Mr Cole said: “Current therapies for MS focus on suppressing immune reactivity and are not curative. The next wave of MS treatments will encompass strategies aimed at enhancing our innate ability to remyelinate damaged neurons. The long-term remyelination failure observed in cases of chronic MS has been linked to a multitude of different signalling pathways in the CNS. Our research on one group of these factors (BMPs) has led to identification of a putative drug target in the BMP signalling pathway. We are currently validating these findings with interest both in vitro and in vivo.”

He added: “This award is a true group effort, and reflects tireless work at the lab bench. It is fantastic to see Abbvie and AusBiotech supporting student research into new areas of clinical importance.”

Research abstracts entered in the Abbvie Student Poster Awards were reviewed by a distinguished panel of judges and eight finalist abstracts were presented in the poster display in the main exhibition hall at the conference. The research highlighted covered areas such as pharmaceutical sciences, disease research, biology and nutritional science.

Dr Jonathan Anderson, Medical Director at AbbVie for Australia and New Zealand, announced the winner of the Award at the AusBiotech 2015 Closing Reception.

“AbbVie is delighted to again support these awards to recognise the vital contribution graduate students make to medical research in Australia. The AbbVie Student Poster Award fits well with AbbVie’s quest to solve complex health issues and bring scientific discoveries to patients with serious diseases,” said Dr Anderson.