The Hugh Green Biobank

Biobank Michael Dragunow

What is it?

The Hugh Green Biobank (HGB), established in 2011 by Professor of Pharmacology, Mike Dragunow, is a world-leading facility dedicated to identifying new treatments for brain disorders by studying human brain cells derived from autopsy and neurosurgical brain tissue donors.

Almost all human brain cell types are now grown routinely in the facility. In addition, the HGB grows and studies brain tumour cells. These various cells are then used in research led by Professor Dragunow with staff and students of the Centre for Brain Research (CBR) and with other researchers in New Zealand and worldwide to identify the causes of brain diseases and to help develop medications to treat brain disorders. Studies using living brain cells are all conducted within the HGB.

The HGB was established with an initial generous grant of $1M and then by a second generous grant of $1.3M from the Hugh Green Foundation.


Who are we?

The HGB is directed by Professor Mike Dragunow from the CBR at the University of Auckland. A number of CBR staff work with and for the HGB, which is closely associated with the Neurological Foundation Human Brain Bank and with neurosurgeons, neurologists, nurses and other staff at Auckland Hospital and Starship Children's Hospital.

The HGB supports Public Good Scientific Research (MBIE, Health Research Council, Brain Research New Zealand, Marsden Fund), philanthropy-funded research (Sir Thomas and Lady Duncan Trust, Coker Charitable Trust, Catwalk Trust, Gus Fisher Charitable Trust, Aotearoa Foundation, The Freemasons Charity, Deane Endownment Trust, Neuro Research Charitable Trust), and also works with Auckland Uniservices, the commercial arm of the University of Auckland, through their Neurovalida platform founded by Professor Dragunow, with colleagues Distinguished Professor Sir Richard Faull and Associate Professor Maurice Curtis. Neurovalida performs commercial research for Pharmaceutical and Biotech companies in NZ and world-wide to promote the development of medications for brain disorders.

Thus, the HGB supports Public Good Scientific Research, Philanthropic-funded Research and Commercial Research into human brain disorders and especially into developing treatments for these devastating conditions, honouring the wishes of the generous brain tissue donors.


What have we accomplished so far? 


The HGB is now one of the world’s leading facilities for isolating, growing and studying normal and diseased adult human brain cells from consenting donors.

Find out about the types of brain cell types now grown routinely in the HGB, providing a world-wide resource for studies of the human brain.


Biobank lab3

Drug discovery and testing using human brain cells

Using our human brain cell systems we have developed innovative drug testing pipelines, allowing us to search for drugs that reduce brain inflammation, promote brain health, or reduce brain tumour formation.

We are screening a number of drug and biological libraries of compounds including a Natural Product Library, in collaboration with Distinguished Professor Margaret Brimble, one of the world’s leading medicinal chemists, and a library of FDA-approved drugs that can be re-purposed for brain indications.

We will also soon expand our screening of biologics, starting with RNAi libraries.

Finally, working with Neurovalida we have promoted the development of medications for the treatment of brain disorders by Biotech companies.

Results from our drug testing pipelines


Biobank lab Deedre Jansson

Studies of brain disease causation using human brain cells

We have demonstrated that cells making up the blood vessels in the brain (pericytes and endothelial cells) play major roles in brain inflammation. We are studying the factors that they secrete and also testing drugs to identify those which can block blood vessel inflammation. This is potentially a major new mechanism for neuronal injury in brain disorders.

In other studies we have discovered a key regulator (called PU.1) that controls genes implicated in Alzheimer’s disease in human brain microglia. By screening a library of compounds we discovered one drug that down-regulates PU.1 expression in human microglia. Based on the results of other studies this action may be therapeutic in Alzheimer’s disease by inhibiting microglial-mediated brain inflammation, and we are following up this work.

We have also been studying how pericytes, in addition to their roles in brain blood flow, might be involved in clearing toxins from the brain including amyloid (implicated in Alzheimer’s disease), synuclein (implicated in Parkinson’s disease), and TDP-43 (implicated in Motor neuron disease).

Some Current and Future Collaborative Studies

Working with Dr Vickie Shim, of the Auckland Bioengineering Institute (ABI) we are conducting studies funded from MBIE modelling human brain scar formation. The goal of this research is to understand how scars develop and test medications that remove brain scars and that might then promote brain recovery after head and spinal injuries.

What are our future goals?

The goal of the HGB is to be a world leader in utilising human brain cells to promote the development of effective medications for people suffering from brain disorders.


The Hugh Green Biobank is made possible thanks to the amazing tissue donors and their families and to the most generous financial support of the Hugh Green Foundation

The HGB was established to find cures for people with brain disorders and we dedicate this world-leading facility to the brave donors and their families who so generously support our work in the most incredible fashion by donating brain tissue for research.



At the HGB we are strongly committed to publishing our methods and experiments using human brain cells so that we can facilitate and expand human brain cell culture studies worldwide and in doing so help accelerate drug development for incurable brain diseases. See full references.