Amrita Kharel was a recipient of Swinburne's Welcome Scholarship in 2017

Sowing the seeds of neurobiological understanding

How a seed grant can help a research project grow

The brain is the most fascinating and complex organ in our body.

Cognitive neurobiological researcher, Professor Susan Rossell, has spent the last 20 years trying to unlock just one of its secrets. Why is it that some of us hear voices? With a helping hand from the Barbara Dicker Brain Sciences Foundation Seed Funding program, she’s one step closer to finding the key.

Susan has always been interested in how the brain works, how it allows us to experience and interact with the world around us. Through events as a child she came to realise that our amazing brains can sometimes go wrong.

"There are lots of frightening, strange, and unusual events that can happen when your brain goes wrong, and for me one of those intriguing events is hearing voices.”

Auditory hallucinations are common in mental illnesses including schizophrenia, depression and bipolar disorder. Susan's research is concerned with finding the trigger for auditory hallucinations by mapping the temporal sequence of the brain’s activity during an hallucination. It is her hope that in the future this temporal information could be used in understanding and treating auditory hallucinations.

Barbara Dicker Brain Sciences Foundation

This potentially life-changing research was made possible through essential funding from the Barbara Dicker Brain Sciences Foundation. The foundation was established in 2011 by Mr Ian Dicker AM and his family to honour the memory of his late wife Barbara. The foundation aims to support the wellbeing of individuals and communities by funding scientific research into mental health.

Through this foundation, the team was awarded a seed funding grant allowing them to gather enough pilot data to apply for a National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) grant.

The application was successful and the team was awarded $466,093 to continue their research.

Importance of seed funding grants

Seed funding helps train the next generation of researchers. Smaller pilot grants give PhD students experience and helps them learn how to put together a proposal. It also provides students with the opportunity to collect data which they wouldn’t otherwise have.

In 2007, the Australian Bureau of Statistics estimated that 45 per cent of Australians aged 16–85 (roughly 7.3 million people) had at some point in their lifetime experienced a mental health disorder. This knowledge makes seed funding grants that help advance our understanding and treatment of mental health issues, all the more important.

Swinburne is grateful to the Barbara Dicker Brain Sciences Foundation for its continued funding and support. For Susan, without it this research would not be possible. 

“Together, as long as individuals keep donating, we can keep researching and potentially make medical breakthroughs that will improve the lives of millions of people in Australia and around the world.”

Seed funding is vital for research projects. Without it we wouldn’t be able to gather pilot data and tell the story that secures bigger research grants.

Professor Susan Rossell, cognitive neurobiological researcher

With donations we can keep researching and make medical breakthroughs

Professor Susan Rossell, cognitive neurobiological researcher