He has already reversed dementia and recovered spatial memories in mice through exercise. And in 2016 he and colleagues at The University of Queensland will begin clinical trials to see if exercise will have the same impact in people with dementia. Then he’ll look at depression.
Underpinning these projects is the idea that the brain is constantly changing; and that learning, memory, mood, and many other brain functions are in part regulated by the production of new neurons.
“My fascination for the brain comes from its complexity,” Perry says.
“How do these vast networks of 10,000 million neurons, each with 10,000 connections, determine the brain’s more metaphysical aspects like who we are, consciousness, and free will?”
When Perry started exploring the brain in 1977 the mature brain was regarded as static and unchangeable. He challenged this dogma and his work has led to a transformation in our understanding of the brain.
In 1982 Perry predicted that there were stem cells in the brain. In 1992 he found them in mouse embryos, then in adult mice. A decade later, he isolated them from the forebrain.
“Our first thought back at the beginning was ‘Wow, now we will be able to repair the brain,’” says Perry. And, while it’s still been a long road, they are now well on the way.
Perry was awarded the 2015 CSL Florey Medal for his discoveries, and for his leadership of neuroscience in Australia.