What if you could read your memories like an address book?
That's the idea driving Brisbane scientist Geoff Faulkner, whose study of DNA mutations in brain cells has won him a $25,000 science research prize.
The associate professor believes the affected brain cells, found clustered in the learning centre of the brain, are likely to be connected to the formation of memories.
Preliminary tests showed those with Alzheimer's disease had fewer mutations while those with schizophrenia had masses of them.
While the research is in its early stages, the breakthrough could help clear hurdles in treating mental disorders.
"No one really knows how a memory is made," Prof Faulkner said.
"We can follow the electricity going around your brain but no one understands how a memory is encoded."
His research has indicated these mutations could act like a DNA address system that pinpoints recollections.
"These mutations are located in the hippocampus, the part of your brain that lights up when new memories are formed," Prof Faulkner said.
In its fourth year, the Centenary Institute Lawrence Creative Prize is awarded to a young scientist who has displayed outstanding originality and creativity in their medical research.
Prof Faulkner edged out Lucy Palmer and Nicholas Plachta, whose respective research into brain cell communication and embryo health were also recognised.
"This research is really cutting edge and they're fundamentally important discoveries that can be used in practical, clinical areas in 10, maybe 12 years' time," Centenary Institute director Mathew Vadas said.