Associate Professor Jess Nithianantharajah

Associate Professor Jess Nithianantharajah is an Australian Research Council Future Fellow and heads the Synapse Biology and Cognition Laboratory at the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health, University of Melbourne.

She completed her doctorate in behavioural neuroscience at the University of Melbourne and commenced postdoctoral training at the Howard Florey Institute. She was recruited as a postdoctoral fellow by Prof. Seth Grant to the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, Cambridge UK during which time she also held a joint appointment at the University of Cambridge working with Professors Tim Bussey and Lisa Saksida on the development of the rodent touchscreen cognitive tests – ‘iPads for mice’ to test animals on complex learning tasks like that used in the clinic with patients. This innovative behavioural tool has advanced how we model complex learning and mental processes in animals.

She then relocated to the University of Edinburgh before returning to Melbourne to the Florey Institute as a Research Group Leader. Her research aims to understand how the connections between brain cells (synapses) are important for mental processes such as learning, memory and attention and what happens when these functions become abnormal in brain disorders. Since being involved in the development and commercialisation of the rodent touchscreen assays in the UK, Jess’ research laboratory is now the largest site in Australia leading the use of this technology.

Her work has provided the first evidence of dissecting the cognitive repertoire in mice with synapse gene mutations, providing novel insights into the evolution of cognition. Her research was also the first to showcase the translational capacity of the touchscreens in assessing cognition in mice and humans carrying mutations in the same gene, providing a novel approach for how to bridge the divide from animal to human studies to deliver precision medicine for cognitive disorders.