MEET THE RESEARCHERS
Dr. Jess Nithianantharajah
Heads of the Synapse Biology and Cognition laboratory, the Florey Institute of Neuroscience & Mental Health
Researchers at The Florey Institute
Dr. Jess Nithianantharajah
Dr. Jess Nithianantharajahis 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.
Researchers at Monash Health
Dr Rachel Hill
Dr Hill is an NHMRC Career Development Fellow and head of the Behavioural Neuroscience laboratory, Department of Psychiatry, Monash University. She completed her PhD in 2007 in biochemistry at Monash University and began postdoctoral training in neuroscience at The Burnham Institute, La Jolla, California, before accepting a NHMRC early career fellowship at the Mental Health Research Institute (now Florey Institute). In 2014 Dr Hill became an independent group head at the Florey Institute for Neuroscience and Mental Health, and in 2016 Dr Hill was recruited to Monash University, Department of Psychiatry to head the behavioural neuroscience program. She has made significant contributions to the fields of neuroscience, neuroendocrinology and psychiatry as demonstrated by her high quality / high throughput publication record (49 pubs, >1200 citations), several international and national invited seminars and funding success (>$3 million) from national (NHMRC) and international (Brain and Behavior Research Foundation USA) funding bodies.
Her research interests lie in behavioural neuroscience, with a particular focus on schizophrenia. She uses pre-clinical animal models to better understand the pathophysiology of mental disorders such as schizophrenia, and to design and test novel therapeutic strategies. She is investigating the origins of schizophrenia and how best to treat the various symptom presentations. These preclinical studies are aligned with collaborative human genetic studies. The long-term goal is patient-specific treatments that may be guided by both genetic and environmental patient profiles.