Dr Karen Mather, Leader of the Genetics & Epigenomics Group at the Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing (CHeBA), UNSW Sydney, has been awarded a $100,000 Rebecca Cooper Grant to research the molecular processes underlying brain ageing.
The grant, entitled “Unravelling human brain ageing – a multi-omics approach”, will be used to investigate epigenomic age-related changes in brains from deceased adults aged up to 103 years of age. Epigenomics refers to molecular processes that alter how much a gene is turned on or off, which do not involve changes to the DNA code.
Dr Karen Mather says that examples of epigenomic modifications and mechanisms include the addition of a methyl group to the DNA backbone (known as DNA methylation) and RNA molecules that do not encode for protein.
CHeBA Co-Director Professor Perminder Sachdev says that this is an exciting field of research.
“Many of the answers of ageing lie not in the genetic code itself, but in how various genes are expressed in different individuals. Interest in RNA, in its various forms, has therefore exploded. The tissue from a cohort of ageing brains at CHeBA is a unique resource to investigate this.”
“This grant will allow the investigation of two epigenomic markers, DNA methylation and microRNAs – which are very short RNA molecules – and brain ageing,” says Dr Karen Mather.
“Importantly, this work builds upon prior data already collected on the same samples creating a comprehensive resource to answer complex questions about brain ageing,” says Dr Mather.
Dr Adith Mohan, a neuropsychiatrist, senior lecturer with the School of Psychiatry and Research Fellow at CHeBA, who established this unique cohort, is already asking questions about protein-coding RNA and brain ageing for his PhD.
“These funds will allow us to investigate brain ageing from several different perspectives – the genome, the transcriptome and the epigenome – the many different molecular ‘omics pathways do not act in isolation but instead interact,” says Dr Mather.
“Looking at single types of data, such as genomics, is too simplistic as ageing is complex and multiple ‘omic factors are involved including epigenomics.”
Dr Mather’s research aims to increase understanding of the molecular factors involved in brain ageing in order to find strategies to promote healthy ageing.
For more information about CHeBA's Genetics & Epigenomics Group: