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

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

Professor John Furness is Professor of Anatomy and Neuroscience and co-director of the Autonomic Neuroscience, Pain and Sensory Mechanisms Laboratory at the University of Melbourne.

His major interest is in the control of visceral organs and the practical application of this knowledge.  This includes studies of autonomic nervous system control and visceral sensory mechanisms. He enjoys devising experiments and experimental methods.

Dr Brid Callaghan and Professor Furness are Co- Leaders on an ISCRR research project looking at reducing the secondary complications of Spinal Cord Injury in the bowel. This is part of ISCRR's Improving Trauma Care Theme. Bowel complications are one of the major problems encountered by people living with SCI.

Dr Brid Callaghan and Professor John Furness are two of over 60 researchers who make up the ISCRR research network. Many who form part of ISCRR's network of researchers, like John and Brid, help ISCRR find the answers which help make a difference to those living with a traumatic injury.

Where do you work?

John has been at the University of Melbourne for twenty years working as a research professor. He also works with collaborators at Austin Health. A substantial component of his research has been in neuropharmacology, especially in 'proof of principle' drug development programs, which are essential prior to drugs being tested in people. 

Where were you prior to starting at Melbourne University?

My first job was as a research technician at the Cancer Institute Laboratories (now Peter Mac). Before joining Melbourne University I was at Flinders University in Adelaide.

How long have you been a researcher with ISCRR?

I am relatively new to becoming a researcher with ISCRR and my current research project is my first to be supported by the Institute.

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

I am interested in applying knowledge to developing treatments that are useful to human health. Most of my work is in looking at the nervous system and in drug development and in the broader area of biomedical science.

I am currently working in the following major areas of research:

- Major work is on digestive physiology.  This particularly relates to the way in which components of diet impact on digestive health.
- Investigating hormones that control digestive functioning including assimilation of nutrients.
- Working in the area of technological research, specifically medical chemistry and field testing through clinical trials.

What do you like best about your role?

There are a number of reasons that I like my role. I really enjoy doing experiments and getting involved in the design, conduct and interpretation of experiments.

What was the most fulfilling piece of research you completed?

I think the most fulfilling piece of research is also the one I am best known for and that is working out the principals of chemical coding for the nervous system. I was involved in developing the theory behind it and the experimental data to complement the theory.

Our discoveries led to the hypothesis that all subgroups of neurons have a unique chemical code and that this code can be used to determine the places of neurons in nerve circuits. People all over the world have subsequently used the chemical coding principles that I developed with Professor Marcello Costa.

How is your research benefiting/providing impact VWA and the TAC?

I hope to decrease the impact of secondary complications for those people who have been through a Spinal Cord Injury – many of which are TAC and VWA clients. My work aims to improve the health and wellbeing of their clients and also help reduce costs so that resources can be used to benefit those with a Spinal Cord Injury even more.

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 to have faith in your own ideas.

Describe yourself in three words.

A Research Scientist.