Meet the Researcher

Dr Mark Hackett

Curtin University, WA

Dr Mark Hackett is a Researcher at the School of Molecular and Life Sciences at Curtin University, Western Australia.

Dr Hackett’s research training was initially as an analytical chemist, specifically a spectroscopist (someone who uses light to study molecules) and being fascinated by how (human) brains work, has led to a career at the interface of analytical chemistry and neuroscience.

About Dr Mark Hackett

Tell us an interesting fact about yourself
This is a tough question! I have been lucky enough to live in three different cities (Perth, Sydney, Saskatoon) and two different countries (Australia and Canada), and this has provided many wonderful opportunities and experiences. One really unique and strange experience though, was experiencing a change in temperature of >80 degrees celsius in one 24-hour period. It was 41 degrees celsius when I boarded my flight in Sydney, and -42 degrees celsius when I landed 23 hours later in Saskatoon!
What inspired you to get involved in MS research?
My research training was initially as an analytical chemist, specifically a spectroscopist (someone who uses light to study molecules). I am however fascinated by how our brains work, which has led to a career at the interface of analytical chemistry and neuroscience. My primary research focus is on the role that metal ions (iron, copper, and zinc) play in healthy brain function and how imbalances in the amount or distribution of these metal ions may contribute to brain disease or disorders. I am really intrigued by the fact that a commonly used model to study MS, uses a chemical compound that interacts strongly with copper (Cu), which raises the question could copper be involved in the pathology of MS?
What do you think has been the most exciting development in MS research?
I think the developments in microscopy and brain imaging techniques are really exciting. There is now an amazing "tool-box" of imaging techniques available to study the brain, which is enabling researchers to visualise key components of brain functions, or pathways involved in diseases or disorders which was never before possible.
Tell us about your current research project
Healthy brain function requires metal ions such as copper (Cu), which are essential to produce the energy required for brain function. If the brain does not have enough Cu, energy failure and brain damage occurs. Many researchers observe that feeding mice a chemical compound (cuprizone) that binds strongly to Cu induces brain damage, which resembles features of multiple sclerosis. Most researchers believe that cuprizone prevents Cu from reaching the brain, which creates brain Cu deficiency. Unfortunately, definitive proof that cuprizone actually causes brain Cu deficiency is lacking. In this project we are using recently developed X-ray microscopy tools to image brain Cu distribution in the cuprizone model. The results of the study are expected to reveal the specific locations in the brain that experience Cu deficiency. Such findings will then enable ourselves (and others) to target and treat specific pathways in the brain through which Cu might be involved in multiple sclerosis.
Why is your research important and how will it influence the understanding and treatment of MS?
This research will characterise for the first time, the specific cell types and brain regions in which Cu deficiency exists in a pre-clinical animal model that is widely used to study demyelinating pathology in the context of multiple sclerosis. This information will be used to identify specific pathways through which altered Cu levels in the brain might contribute to multiple sclerosis pathology, opening the possibility for preventative or therapeutic strategies centred on maintaining (preventative) or restoring (therapeutic) brain Cu levels.
What do you enjoy most about working in the lab and what are some of the challenges you face?
I really enjoy microscopy and the fact that it enables you to "see" how the brain works. The saying "a picture paints 1,000 words" is very true when studying the brain.
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Mark Hackett