Dr Alex Tang has become the first Western Australian recipient to be awarded a Young Investigator Grant from the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation in New York. The goal of the Young Investigator program is to help promising neuroscientists launch their independent research careers. 

The competitive grant is Dr Tang’s first international funding received as a postdoctoral researcher. He is a team leader within the Brain Plasticity Research group at The University of Western Australia and the Perron Institute, led by Associate Professor Jennifer Rodger. 

The $100,000 grant (over two years) will fund a project to investigate how magnetic brain stimulation can enhance neural plasticity in the human brain and assist as a treatment for depression.  

Depression is one of the most common mental illnesses worldwide and a leading cause of disability.  

Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) is a popular treatment option for patients with depression as it is non-invasive and well tolerated. However, not all patients who receive rTMS treatment experience improved clinical outcomes, and it is unclear why the therapeutic effect of rTMS varies substantially. 

“The aim of the project is to improve the efficacy of rTMS treatment,” Dr Tang said. “Overall, our goal is to improve the livelihoods of people with depression worldwide. 

“We hope that knowledge gained from this project will provide clinicians with an evidence base to reliably predict which neurological symptoms and which patients will benefit from rTMS in the treatment of depression.

“I’m thrilled to have received a Young Investigator grant as they’re reviewed by top neuroscientists and psychiatrists internationally, and it recognises the innovative work my students and I are doing.” 

For the project, Dr Tang will be collaborating with his PhD student (UWA and Perron Institute), Rebecca Ong, an Australian Rotary Health Scholar, and Paul Croarkin, Professor of Psychiatry at the Mayo Clinic Depression Center in Minnesota, USA. They will use spatial transcriptomics (a new technique that maps gene expression across brain samples) to investigate how rTMS induces plasticity in human brain tissue and how this varies in patient populations (e.g. sex and age).  

The Brain and Behavior Research Foundation is committed to alleviating the suffering caused by mental illness by awarding grants that will lead to advances and breakthroughs in scientific research. They are the largest US non-government funder of mental health research grants. Historically, only one or two Australians have been funded each year.  

Congratulations, Dr Tang and team!