Robyn Brown

veski inspiring women career recovery grant recipient

University of Melbourne

A veski inspiring women career recovery grant is awarded to Dr Robyn Brown, a Senior Research Fellow and head of the Behavioural Neuropharmacology laboratory within University of Melbourne’s department of Biochemistry and Pharmacology.

Using addiction neuroscience to understand drivers of overeating

Dr Brown leads an all-female group that includes five doctoral students, an honours student and an undergraduate student. Her team’s current research focuses on investigating the neural mechanisms underlying pathological forms of motivated behaviour such as compulsive overeating and drug addiction.

Obesity costs Australia over $11 billion per year. Current treatments, including diet and exercise, inevitably fail and weight gain ensues. This is, in part, due to a lack of focus on the drivers of overeating. Emerging evidence has demonstrated that the brain reward system becomes dysregulated in obesity. Dr Brown’s research aims to understand the drivers of overeating and utilises addiction neuroscience to pave the way for improved therapeutic options for people with obesity.

Funding from veski will support Dr Brown and a senior doctoral student to rebound from the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020, which disrupted laboratory work. It will enable expanded capacity for Dr Brown’s laboratory and mentoring of junior scientists. Specific projects to benefit will include identifying precise neural circuits driving emotional eating in females; examining the impact of bariatric surgery on emotional eating and mental health; investigating the neurobiological and metabolic consequences of occasional junk food consumption (animal and human studies); and the clinical trial of a compound that reduces addiction-like behaviour towards food.

A leading role in supporting women in STEM

Having earned a PhD at Monash University and a Bachelor of Commerce/Science (Honours) from the University of Melbourne, Dr Brown was awarded a Sir Keith Murdoch Fellowship from the American Australian Association to undertake postdoctoral training in the laboratory of Peter Kalivas in the United States, where she contributed to several high impact studies investigating neuroplasticity in drug addiction.

Dr Brown regularly publishes in the fields of neuroscience, neuropharmacology and biological psychiatry. She has been recognised in numerous awards in recent years including the AW Campbell Award for the top performing neuroscientist less than 5 years post PhD in Australasia; the shortlist for L’Oreal Women in Science Award; the Japanese Neuroscience Society Young Investigator Award; and the Young Investigator Colloquia Award, International Society for Neurochemistry.

As a member of the Equality in Science committee at the Florey Institute for nine years, Dr Brown supported and contributed to reporting on STEM career paths for women and a workplace gender equality strategic plan; assisted in transforming the workplace for parents, including parental leave and on-site facilities for parents; and established a rebound grant for carers disproportionately affected by COVID-19.

Dr Brown was also part of a taskforce created by the Women in Science Parkville Precinct [WiSPP] group convened to increase the number of women occupying scientific leadership positions.