Meet Our People

Associate Professor Sarah Spencer

Associate Professor Sarah Spencer is a Principal Research Fellow at the School of Health and Biomedical Sciences at RMIT University in Melbourne. A developmental neuroscientist and neuroendocrinology researcher, Assoc. Prof. Spencer’s research focus is on understanding the obese brain; the neurological causes and consequences of diet and obesity.

She has substantial expertise in the fields of developmental, stress, and neuroimmune physiology, including a body of work showing how early life challenges, like poor diet, disrupt neuroimmune function and revealing how metabolic hormones control stress and anxiety.

As a scientist with a background in brain development but not directly involved in Sanfilippo research, Assoc. Prof Spencer will contribute a new perspective on research strategies that will be of benefit for children with Sanfilippo.

"Thinking outside the box and bringing new approaches to old problems is an important way to understand the mechanisms behind this disease and derive new treatment strategies."

Interest in the Sanfilippo cause:

"Children with Sanfilippo need an intervention now. Fundamental science seldom works with much urgency, and it’s easy to lose sight of the end goal of improving health when our day-to-day work is focused on disease mechanisms. For me, learning about children with Sanfilippo and their families has brought that sense of urgency to front and centre.

"I recognise the necessity of fast-tracking Sanfilippo research where possible so that it is targeted towards a very specific outcome – translation to a cure. I’m interested in supporting the Sanfilippo cause because I believe life-changing treatments are possible and this Foundation’s goal of a cure for Sanfilippo is a realistic one.

"As a scientist interested in brain development I am fascinated by how the brain and immune system intersect and all the processes that need to come together to make us function. The more we understand about these processes, the more chance we have of treating them if they are perturbed. I hope my expertise in brain development will help bring a broad perspective to research in this field."

Message to the wider Australian community about the work of the Sanfilippo Children’s Foundation:

"I would like the wider Australian community to know more about the personal side of Sanfilippo. I would like us to better understand that fundamental research into a cure and into treatment of symptoms is absolutely necessary for this disorder.

'It is also important to appreciate that while Sanfilippo is rare, what we learn in targeted research into this disorder will help us better understand other developmental and neurodegenerative disorders. Fundamental research is the only way we will make improvements into health care over the long-term. "

I am inspired by the work of the Foundation because:

'The Sanfilippo Children’s Foundation understands the need to invest in fundamental research with a translational focus to bring about discovery and change in the field. I am inspired by its mission to bring research attention to this rare but devastating disease and the potential the Foundation has to make a real difference to people with Sanfilippo through this strategy."

 Favourite motivational quote:

"I’m not sure about motivational quotes, but in my office I have written up “learning can reduce dendritic spine density”; a finding from one of my group’s experiments. It reminds me how complicated the brain is and how the most obvious hypotheses often turn out to be not supported."

(Photo courtesy of RMIT, Melbourne)