Home' Scoop : Scoop 53 Spring 2010 Contents 84 scoop SPRING 2010
“That’s where Australia was so beautiful and so
welcoming, it fully embraced us,” he says.
Young Ralph went to Cyril Jackson Senior High
in Bassendean – a bit of a culture shock having been
brought up in such strict sur roundings. “To g o into
such a very free environment, especially at that
school, where even the teachers were so relaxed...”
he shakes his head and smiles. But there was one
teacher in particular who made a big difference.
“He just sort of believed in me. His name
was Clem Mulcahy, he showed me support and
kindness and attention. He taught history and
I was not even interested in history, but I got
an A plus,” he chuckles.
He was interested in science and medicine.
When he failed to get into medicine, he enrolled in
biochemistry at the University of WA. At uni he
met his Burmese-born zoologist/microbiologist
wife Georgia (who now also works at the
foundation) and they married when he was 20.
Professor Martins went on to PhD research on
the action of insulin on diabetics.
“My mum had diabetes so that had driven
me towards medicine,” he says.
But it was Georgia's father’s very different
disease that ultimately determined his direction.
“My father-in-law had Alzheimer’s, so I changed to
neuroscience and started work with Colin Masters.”
His training as a biochemist led him to try
to find out what the plaques were that were
found in the brains of people who had died with
Alzheimer’s. And, using German equipment, he
was able to find the answer.
The McCusker Research Foundation now
has 1100 patients whom it has been monitoring
and analysing for many years to try to assess the
lifestyle factors that lead to Alzheimer’s and what
might protect ag ainst it. What they know so far
is that many of the same factors that cause heart
attacks and strokes, also bring on Alzheimer’s.
So far they know that fish oil (DHA) can
protect the brain cells, as it does the heart.
“We don’t know how it does it, but we know
it does,” Professor Martins says. One of the
compounds in turmeric is effective (but finding the
best way to absorb it is still an issue), as is green tea.
Physical exercise seems an excellent preventative
strategy because it breaks down amyloids.
However the “use it or lose it” maxim (advocating
stimulating and challenging the brain with mental
activity) keeps the brain’s pathways strong but does
not dispense with the damaging amyloids.
He reels off the various research projects and
trials being conducted under his supervision by the
40 people in his team. They range from detailed
work at a molecular level (at the labs at ECU
Joondalup) to psychological testing and clinical
work. One researcher is making headway using
stem cells to repair damaged brains while another
is doing exciting gene research. Perth businessman
Harold Clough’s funded the institute to develop a
skin patch or implant which should deliver
anti-amyloid medications directly to patients.
“But we need ongoing funding for this process. It
needs a lot more investment,” Professor Martins says.
A big part of the professor’s job is continuing
to attract interest in the work of the institute and
ACTUALLY IT IS BRAIN SCIENCE Professor Martins'
research is on the way to preventing the chemicals
that cause Alzheimer's affecting the brain.
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