[ASC-media] Media release: Australasian Science Prize Awarded for Insights on Nervous Transmission

Australasian Science science at control.com.au
Wed Nov 5 11:30:24 EST 2003

5 November 2003
For immediate release

Australasian Science Prize Awarded for Insights on Nervous Transmission

Discovering insights into how sensory information is processed and
transmitted in the brain has earned Mark Rowe the Australasian Science Prize
for 2003, announced today.

Professor Rowe is the first medical scientist to win the Prize that rewards
outstanding research by individuals or small groups. Rowe is Emeritus
Scientia Professor and Conjoint Professor of Physiology at the University of
NSW. His colleague, Associate Professor John Carmody, describes him as
"Australia's most distinguished sensory neuroscientist. Few, if any,
laboratories can match the precision of his research, using a range of
mammalian species, notably the cat and marmoset monkey".

Precision is crucial when unravelling information from the thousands of
individual fibres that transmit sensations from a fingertip to the brain.
Each neuron (nerve cell) is 0.01-0.02 mm across. Nervous impulses sprint up
to 100 metres/second, taking 0.001 seconds to run along an arm or transfer
across any of the billions of synaptic junctions in the brain.

Rowe overturned the widely held view that nervous information, particularly
the sense of touch, is transmitted "serially" to the cortex of the brain
like a train passing from station to station. But by isolating sites in the
cerebral cortex through localised cooling, Rowe instead showed that
processing is "parallel", radiating like buses from a central hub.

Monash University Professor Uwe Proske says: "Mark Rowe discovered parallel
processing in the cortex, meaning that the brain acquires information about
the world with simultaneous use of several, separate networks. If we do not
have the information from all available channels our sensory experience is

"Rowe has been a pioneer in showing how Australia's native monotremes
provide unique models for studies in neuroscience. He was the first person
to map the region of the platypus brain that receives information coming
from nerve endings in the bill. Recent papers report findings on their sense
of touch."

The National Health & Medical Research Council and the Australian Research
Council have supported Rowe's research continuously over nearly 20 years
with a total of $2.8 million since 1989.

While Rowe is cautious about predicting practical application of his work,
which he sees as "fundamental in the best spirit of scientific inquiry",
Carmody believes: "These findings have implications for understanding
disturbances of consciousness and perception that characterise some
psychiatric disorders, most notably schizophrenia".

GRAPHICS and a PHOTOMICROGRAPH explaining Rowe's experiments and findings
and a photo of him recording faint signals from individual neurons are

Prof Rowe (02) 9385 1053/1054
A/Prof Carmody (02) 9385 2548
Prof Proske (03) 9905 2526
Editor, Guy Nolch (03) 9500 0015
Senior Correspondent, Dr Peter Pockley (02) 9660 6363
UNSW Communications Director, Judy Brookman (02) 9385 3249; (0421) 061 251


Research Fellow, NSW Department of Health; Neurophysiology Laboratory,
Psychiatric Research Unit, Callan Park Hospital, Sydney.

Commonwealth Post Graduate Scholar, Teaching Fellow & Temporary Lecturer,
School of Physiology, UNSW.

International Post Doctoral Fellow of the US Public Health Service;
Laboratory of Neurobiology, State University of New York at Buffalo, New
York, USA.

Humboldt Foundation Fellow; Physiologisches Institut, Universität Kiel,
German Federal Republic.

Lecturer, Senior Lecturer, Associate Professor in Physiology; School of
Physiology and Pharmacology, UNSW.

Visiting Fellow, Dept of Veterinary Physiology, University of Edinburgh.

Since 1988 
Professor of Physiology, School of Physiology & Pharmacology, UNSW.

Since 2001    
Scientia Professor of UNSW.

Chairman, National Committee for Physiology of the Australian Academy of

Chairman, International Union of Physiological Sciences (IUPS) Commission on
Somatosensory Physiology and Pain.

Chairman of all five IUPS Commissions for Sensory Physiology, comprising
those for Visual Physiology; Auditory Physiology; Somatosensory Physiology &
Pain; Olfaction and Taste; and Sensory Transduction.


Dr Mark Hindell (University of Tasmania) for ecological research into
population declines of southern elephant seals.

Prof Mandyam Srinivasan, Dr Shaowu Zhang & Dr Javaan Chahl (Australian
National University) for extending knowledge of the behaviour and
intelligence of bees to artificial intelligence.

Dr Charlie Veron & Dr Mary Stafford-Smith (Australian Institute of Marine
Science) for the world¹s first comprehensive taxonomic record of all coral
species known to science.

Australasian Science is Australia¹s sole monthly science magazine.

Guy Nolch
Editor, Australasian Science
Control Publications Pty Ltd
PO Box 2155
Wattletree Rd PO  VIC 3145

Phone (03) 9500 0015
Fax (03) 9500 0255
Web: control.com.au
ABN 46 006 591 304

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