Prof Maxwell Bennett
Professor of Neuroscience and University Chair, University of Sydney
Professor Maxwell Bennett is an internationally renowned neuroscientist and expert on the history and philosophy of brain and mind research. He has had a long-standing interest in studying the functioning of synapses and a wider philosophical interest in the relationship between the brain and our psychological attributes such as thinking, remembering and perceiving. Among his major research contributions is the discovery of non-adrenergic non-cholinergic (NANC) neurotransmitters and elucidation of their mechanisms of action, which has had profound implications for the treatment of visceral and vascular disorders. His current research is investigating synaptic functioning in neuropsychiatric diseases including post-traumatic stress disorder. His team was the first to demonstrate that stress leads to the loss of synapses in certain parts of the brain and in turn, to the loss of grey matter seen via neuroimaging in PTSD patients. His philosophical studies challenge traditional paradigms of brain science, which attribute psychological capabilities such as thinking, perceiving and remembering, to the brain. Instead he says “it is the person who possesses these attributes, while the brain facilitates expression of these abilities”. Professor Bennett’s pioneering work on the physiology, development and plasticity of synapses, led to him being awarded by the Australian Government in 1980, the first and largest Centre of Research Excellence (of the 10 established within Australian universities). In 2000 he was elected to the first University Chair ‘for research recognized internationally as of exceptional distinction’. As Founding Director of the Brain and Mind Research Institute (BMRI), Professor Bennett cemented his vision of bringing together psychiatrists, psychologists, neuroscientists and patients, to facilitate collaborative research and patient management. He has founded numerous other organizations and authored several books on the history and philosophy of the brain sciences, and on science policy.