Science

McNally is psychology's "rising star"

Rising star: Gavan McNally
Tuesday, 7 April, 2009

UNSW behavioural neuroscientist Associate Professor Gavan P. McNally has been recognised as an international "rising star" by the Association for Psychological Science (APS).

Dr McNally is a Queen Elizabeth II Research Fellow and Associate Professor in the UNSW School of Psychology, where he heads the Behavioural Neuroscience Lab.

The APS is a non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of scientific psychology and its representation internationally. It has some 20,000 members - including researchers, academics, clinicians and administrators - and its mission is "to promote, protect, and advance the interests of scientifically oriented psychology in research, application, teaching, and the improvement of human welfare."

Dr McNally was awarded more than $1.25 million dollars in the 2008 Australian Research Council (ARC) and National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) funding rounds.

The funded grants include his prestigious ARC QEII Research Fellowship (2008 - 2012) and associated Discovery Project grant to study how the brain predicts danger. The QEII Fellowship, one of only three awarded to UNSW, enables Dr McNally to devote his time to research and research supervision.

Also funded was a collaborative ARC Discovery Project (2008 - 2010) with Professor Rick Richardson studying the brain mechanisms that inhibit fear.

Intense international effort is being made to identify the brain mechanisms that inhibit fear and anxiety because dysfunction of these inhibitory mechanisms cause clinical anxiety disorders. The project couples contemporary psychological and neuroscience approaches to study how the brain inhibits fear and asks how this changes across the lifespan.

Finally, Dr McNally was awarded an NHMRC Project grant (2008 - 2010) to study the brain mechanisms for relapse to drug-taking. Drug addiction is a chronic, relapsing conditioning. Approximately 75% of individuals seeking treatment for drug use, regardless of the drug they use, will relapse to drug use within 12 months of treatment.

Contexts and places play an important role in influencing this relapse - there are "Achilles' heel" situations where relapse is more likely than at other times. This project identifies the brain circuits, as well as key neurotransmitters and neuropeptides within those circuits, that enable contexts to trigger relapse. The total funds awarded to Dr McNally made him the most successful researcher from the Faculty of Science in the funding round.

Click here to read Dr McNally's profile on the APS website.