The importance of discovery research

MRI scan of brains with hand and pen hovering over

Illuminating the intricate circuitry of the brain


The Queensland Brain Institute is a world-leading neuroscience research centre, established in 2003 with a vision to understand the mechanisms of brain function and progress treatments for neurological disorders and diseases.


The path scientists follow to discovery is never a straight line and is inspired by a deep desire to explore new ground.

Fundamental discovery science provides intellectual freedom for scientists to flex their creative muscle and develop ideas or concepts that capture their curiosity but don’t have an immediate or obvious outcome.

Take, for example, the use of fluorescent proteins to study the brain, a technique that has revolutionised neuroscience. It would never have resulted without Professor Osamu Shimomura asking "Why does the jellyfish Aequorea victoria glow bright green when agitated?"

After a disappointing day in the lab, Shimomura poured his experiment into the sink, never expecting the eureka moment that followed. The glowing water in the sink full of jellyfish before him led to the discovery of a green fluorescent protein (GFP).

Fundamental discovery science provides intellectual freedom for scientists to flex their creative muscle and develop ideas or concepts that capture their curiosity but don’t have an immediate or obvious outcome.

Jellyfish under ultraviolet light

Shimomura’s findings led to a proliferation of research by many scientists. His Nobel prize-winning studies completely changed research, allowing scientists to tag a protein or molecule of interest with a fluorescent marker. Professor Martin Chalfie took Shimomura’s breakthrough one step further, by injecting the gene that expresses GFP into the DNA of roundworm C. elegans. The resulting bright, fluorescent displays revealed where the gene expressed proteins.

In another experiment, Professor Roger Tsien modified the GFP gene so it would express multi-coloured arrays, resulting in the stunning and informative “brainbow”. The neurons of the mouse brain were mapped for the first time using this new technique, allowing researchers to distinguish individual neurons, study their connections and deduce how these connections affect function in the healthy and disordered brain.

The infamous “brainbow” - brain cells visualised with many different coloured fluorescent proteins showing a rainbow of colours.

The multi-coloured ‘brainbow’ occurs when neurons are distinguished by fluorescent proteins-a dazzling display that began with the simple observation of jellyfish. Credit: Leonie Kirszenblat

The multi-coloured ‘brainbow’ occurs when neurons are distinguished by fluorescent proteins-a dazzling display that began with the simple observation of jellyfish. Credit: Leonie Kirszenblat

‘Fluorescence’ research represents decades of fearless commitment to embracing the unknown and culminated in a Nobel Prize. Even though the discovery was made serendipitously at the start, that moment has forever changed how scientists study the human brain - its hidden potential now on show.

Researchers at the Queensland Brain Institute continue this legacy by illuminating the intricate circuitry of the brain with advanced, cutting-edge technology to investigate promising new treatments and innovative applications.

The human brain has limitless opportunity for discovery and curiosity is the momentum driving our scientists to achieve new ground.

A message from QBI Director,
Professor Pankaj Sah


Scientific discovery has had an indelible impact on our health and daily lives, but there is still so much to learn. Discovery research gives scientists the opportunity to take the risks needed to tackle the unknown – mistakes are part of the learning curve. The data that scientists generate guides new research endeavours to finding cures for diseases or lifestyle-improving applications.

The human brain is not only the object of our research, it is also the engine that drives discovery, with curiosity the momentum driving our scientists to break new ground. Empowering researchers with funding to undertake fundamental discovery research has tangible results. 

A study* of new medicines approved by the USA’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found that every single one of the 210 new medicines approved from 2010-2016 was developed from discoveries in fundamental science. The benefits of discovery science are broader than new disease treatments, though. It also provides insight into new architectures for information processing and storage and delivers breakthroughs of which we can’t even dream right now. 
*Cleary, E. G. et al. Contribution of NIH funding to new drug approvals 2010–2016. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 115, 2329-2334, doi/10.1073/pnas.1715368115 (2018).

Scientists from around the world have been attracted to the Queensland Brain Institute to join our quest to answer fundamental questions about the brain: how it forms, its structure, the cells of which it is composed, the genes it expresses, and how, ultimately, this knowledge underpins our interpretation of the world around us and our behaviour. The dedication to pursue those ideas, no matter how intangible or far-reaching, is providing the foundation for discoveries which will help lead to clinical outcomes. 

Many research projects at the Queensland Brain Institute illustrate how fundamental discoveries are leading to quantifiable progress.

Professor Pankaj Sah, Director of the Queensland Brain Institute

Professor Pankaj Sah. Credit: Patrick Hamilton.

Professor Pankaj Sah. Credit: Patrick Hamilton.

A message from QBI Director,
Professor Pankaj Sah


Scientific discovery has had an indelible impact on our health and daily lives, but there is still so much to learn. Discovery research gives scientists the opportunity to take the risks needed to tackle the unknown – mistakes are part of the learning curve. The data that scientists generate guides new research endeavours to finding cures for diseases or lifestyle-improving applications.

The human brain is not only the object of our research, it is also the engine that drives discovery, with curiosity the momentum driving our scientists to break new ground. Empowering researchers with funding to undertake fundamental discovery research has tangible results. 

A study* of new medicines approved by the USA’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found that every single one of the 210 new medicines approved from 2010-2016 was developed from discoveries in fundamental science. The benefits of discovery science are broader than new disease treatments, though. It also provides insight into new architectures for information processing and storage and delivers breakthroughs of which we can’t even dream right now.  *Cleary, E. G. et al. Contribution of NIH funding to new drug approvals 2010–2016. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 115, 2329-2334, doi/10.1073/pnas.1715368115 (2018).

Scientists from around the world been attracted to the Queensland Brain Institute to join our quest to answer fundamental questions about the brain: how it forms, its structure, the cells of which it is composed, the genes it expresses, and how, ultimately, this knowledge underpins our interpretation of the world around us and our behaviour. The dedication to pursue those ideas, no matter how intangible or far-reaching, is providing the foundation for discoveries which will help lead to clinical outcomes. 

Many research projects at the Queensland Brain Institute illustrate how fundamental discoveries are leading to quantifiable progress.

BRAIN FACT


A piece of brain tissue the size of a grain of sand contains 100,000 neurons and a billion synapses.


The BRAIN: The Nature of Discovery


BRAIN FACT


A piece of brain tissue the size of a grain of sand contains 100,000 neurons and a billion synapses.


The BRAIN: The Nature of Discovery


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