Sep 21, 2015

Finding a drug for neurological disorder

From Times Live, Monday 7th September 2015
By Farida Master


Jerusha Naidoo


Grey matter: Former Edgewater College student Jerusha Naidoo shares her passion for neuroscience with the students of the school. Times photos Farida Master

Her eyes light up as she talks about gene therapy.

Her passion is infectious. 

Jerusha Naidoo’s fascination for science and the intricacies of the human brain was fostered by her teachers at Edgewater College.

Ten years later, she is still in touch with Biology head of department, Terry Gordon, who has invited her to Edgewater College talk to the students about the ground-breaking work she does.

“I had a natural leaning towards genetics,” says the Pakuranga girl who has just submitted her PhD thesis on gene therapy.

Jerusha has been selected as a Neurological Foundation Miller Scholar, a highly sought after scholarship  amongst New Zealand’s neuroscientists.

“I feel really privileged to have received this honour this early in my career,” she says. 

Her tryst with the neurological health began with a deep-rooted interest in ‘the seat of human consciousness’.  

“All our cells have the same DNA, yet they all intrinsically know their functions,” she says with a sense of wonder and excitement.

“The brain controls our emotions, thoughts and is responsible for so many functions like our breathing and movement.

“When brain cells become diseased the effects can be detrimental.”

Instead of taking up a job or travelling the world like any girl her age, Jerusha decided she wanted to work on a drug discovery for a diseased brain.

The 29 year-old says working part time as a student at Howick Baptist Healthcare where she came across residents suffering from Parkinson’s disease, increased her resolve to help find a cure for neurological disorders.

“I was moved by the everyday challenges faced by these brave people.”

It was during her Master’s degree at the University of Auckland where top notch neuroscientists critically evaluate peer research to create new knowledge, that she had an opportunity to connect with associate professor, Deborah Young, from the Molecular Neurotherapeutics Group Centre for Brain Research. 

“She has a team of researchers working on different aspects of gene therapy, a technology that involves inserting a gene into the cells for therapeutic purpose.” 

Jerusha’s PhD research involves developing a system where the good genes would only be produced in sick brains cells.

“This could potentially reduce the likelihood of side effects,” she explains without giving away too much information.

The young neuroscientist, who is often invited to give talks to young college students and exceptionally gifted pupils, will be taking her research to Chicago in October where it will be disseminated at the Society for Neuroscience.

“There will be 30,000 neuroscientists there. I will be presenting my findings and hope to form collaborations with labs overseas. The plan is to learn some new skills for a couple of years before returning to New Zealand.

“Hopefully these new skills will strengthen the great research already being done in New Zealand,” says Jerusha to the students of Edgewater College who are visibly inspired.

Next Steps

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Mr Allan Vester

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