Current imaging techniques to support a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease, such as PET and MRI, are expensive and difficult to access. An inexpensive and non-invasive ultrasound method identifies a change in the appearance of the vulnerable brain region, the substantia nigra, called hyperechogenicity which appears to represent a stable marker for this disorder.
We are currently researching the promise of this technique as a method of diagnosis in the Australian Parkinson’s disease community. Further we have demonstrated changes in cortical function in a number of healthy individuals with a hyperechogenic substantia nigra but normal movement. We believe that motor control circuits are altered in these healthy individuals with hyperechogenicity to compensate for the change within the substantia nigra. We are using a variety of clinical, functional and imaging methods to investigate changes in movement circuits in persons with a hyperechogenic nigra with either normal movement or Parkinson’s disease.
These studies will enable us to understand brain changes that occur when normal motor control is disrupted and which changes in the brain are associated with the ability to produce normal movement and which are associated with movement dysfunction. This project is working towards an objective and early diagnostic method for Parkinson’s disease, as well as a better understanding of how the brain control movement in health and disease. This may provide the opportunity to develop new therapies to attenuate movement problems based upon enhancing the brain’s endogenous compensatory mechanisms.
This project is suitable for an ILP, Honours or PhD project. Contact Assoc Prof Double for more information.
Dr Gabrielle Todd, University of South Australia
Professor Caroline Rae, Neuroscience Research Australia
Clarence Chiang, Honours student, UNSW