Meet our Researchers - Finding the Answers that help ISCRR make a difference

Dr James Brock is a Senior Research Fellow and and co-director of the Autonomic Neuroscience, Pain and Sensory Mechanisms Laboratory the University of Melbourne.

He graduated in biological sciences and then spent 6 years in industry as a toxicologist before completing a DPhil in pharmacology. 

A major focus of his current work is the effects of nerve injury on tissues innervated by the autonomic nervous system.  In particular, his work has focused on the effects of spinal cord injury and peripheral nerve injuries on blood vessel function. 

Dr Brock is currently working on ISCRR research looking at improving bladder health after spinal injury. This is part of ISCRR's Improving Trauma Care Theme.

Dr James Brock is one of over 60 researchers who make up the ISCRR research network. Many who form part of ISCRR's network of researchers, like James, help ISCRR find the answers which help make a difference to those living with a traumatic injury.

Where do you work?

I have been at the University of Melbourne Department of Anatomy and Neuroscience concentrating primarily on work related to the effects of Spinal Cord Injury on bodily functions.

Where were you prior to starting at Melbourne University?

I started working in the area of Spinal Cord Injury whilst living and working in Sydney for the Prince of Wales Medical Research Institute, now called Neuroscience Research Australia (NuRA).

How long have you been a researcher with ISCRR?

This is my first experience of carrying out research through ISCRR. However, my research has previously been funded by the Transport Accident Commission (TAC).

What area of research are you working in and what attracted you to this type of research?

My work focusses on organs controlled by the autonomic nervous system.  Dysfunction of these organs has a major impact on people with spinal cord injury and this is the focus of the ISCRR study I am currently working on – specifically I am investigating changes in bladder function that increase the incidence of a Urinary Tract Infection after a Spinal Cord Injury.

As a scientist I was attracted to research in this area because the many of the major complications following spinal cord injury are the consequence of damage to Autonomic Nervous System. I believe understand the mechanisms that underlie the complications will lead to improved treatments.

I am currently lead investigator on projects investigating:
- the effects of spinal cord injury on the epithelial lining (urothelium) of the urinary bladder.
- the effects of spinal cord injury on blood vessel function.
- the mechanisms of sensory transduction in polymodal and cold-sensitive corneal sensory receptor nerve terminals.

What do you like best about your role?

I really enjoy understanding how the body works. Recently my work has focussed on changes in organ function produced by peripheral nerve and spinal cord injuries.  I believe that by understanding the mechanisms that lead to organ dysfunction following these nerve injuries will also provide new insight into their normal function.

What was the most fulfilling piece of research you completed?

My real area of specialisation is as an electro-physiologist, and I have developed novel methods for recording electrically activity from very small nerves, for example, those that control blood vessels. Using these techniques I have, for first time, directly investigated action potential initiation in receptive nerve endings of sensory neurones that trigger the sensation of pain.

I have also been able to demonstrate for the first time that spinal cord injury produces a marked augmentation of neurovascular transmission; a change that almost certainly contributes to unusual high blood pressure episodes (autonomic dysreflexia) in spinal cord injured people.

How is your research benefiting/providing impact for the Victorian WorkCover Authority (VWA) and the TAC?

I am working towards research that will provide benefits for those people who have a Spinal Cord Injury. My work is building the scientific evidence needed for the development of treatment strategies for this group of patients who are supported by the TAC and VWA.

What is the best piece of advice you've been given, and what would you give?

The best advice I can give or have been given is that if someone tells you something doesn't happen or is impossible – don't believe that that is always correct.

Describe yourself in three words.

Committed, Enthusiastic, Persistent