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Birznieks Group - Dr Ingvars Birznieks

Our senses define our existence and determine how we perceive the world in which we live. I have always been fascinated by the function of sensory organs and astonished by the versatility of clever solutions we see in nature around us. For me, it is intriguing to investigate how sensory organs work and, in particular, how sensory information is encoded and how it is processed and interpreted. A specific methodological signature of my research is the use of microneurography - a highly skilled neurophysiological technique that enables us to record nerve impulses (messages) generated by a single sensory ending, such as a touch receptor in the skin, in awake humans. There are many things to discover – not just to increase our understanding of sensation, but to help people who have lost part of their sensory function due to illness or trauma. We can also borrow ideas from biological systems and use them to develop future technologies.

However, senses are not only used for perception; in fact, the most complex processing of sensory signals can be linked to the control of our actions. The hand, for example, is an extraordinary sensory organ that is used to explore the physical world using the tactile sense, but at the same time it is also the most sophisticated and versatile instrument to change the environment via manipulation of objects. The key to the hand’s astounding functionality is the highly specialised sensory system and sensorimotor control algorithms that govern hand actions.

My research primarily comprises a range of studies related to the function of tactile receptors in the fingertip skin and sensorimotor control of human hand. However, my ultimate goal is to use this fundamental knowledge and foster two branches of collaborative networks - one with clinicians, which would be aimed to develop new methods for evaluation of sensorimotor function in different groups of patients, while the second branch would be aimed at working with biomedical engineers to create artificial sensors and control algorithms for prosthesis and robotic manipulators resembling functionality of the human hand.

Recruiting participants for experiments: potential healthy test subjects are welcome to contact us for more information. You will be reimbursed for your time.

Recruiting stroke patients for testing: We are looking for stroke patients willing to participate in testing skin sensations on the hand. Please email for details and selection criteria.

More information about the project:

Information for potential students: please see the 'Research Projects' section below for further information.

Senior Research Fellow, NeuRA
Senior Lecturer, Physiology, School of Medical Sciences, UNSW Medicine
Adjunct Fellow, School of Science and Health, UWS
T: +612 9399 1672

Dr Ingvars Birznieks is a sensory neurophysiologist interested in sensory information encoding mechanisms. He received his PhD training in the world’s leading laboratories in the field of somatosensory research led by Prof Roland S Johansson at Umeå University in Sweden and Prof Antony W Goodwin at the University of Melbourne. He has long-standing teaching experience that began at the Department of Human and Animal Physiology, University of Latvia where he was known for his passion for teaching Sensory Physiology and Regulation Principles in Biological Systems. In 2005 he received a prestigious Fellowship from the Swedish Medical Research Council to conduct postdoctoral research at NeuRA with Prof Vaughan Macefield. During his postdoctoral studies, he committed to broaden his research competence to study the physiological mechanisms underlying development of chronic pain and the function of the autonomic nervous system.

After his postdoc studies, he was offered a position of senior research officer at NeuRA to contribute to the large scale cross-organisational project supported by Australian Government Special Research Initiative “Thinking Systems” – the project bringing together neuroscientists, biomedical engineers and roboticists. This project promoted advanced research in the field of his primary competence - tactile sensory control of dexterous manipulation - and fostered his growth as an independent researcher. The following National Competitive Grant success ($1.1m) enabled him to pursue his long time ambition to establish his own research network centred around the studies on neuronal information encoding mechanisms in the somatosensory system. His current focus is cross-disciplinary projects linking neuroscience, clinical neurology, and biomedical engineering. From 2011 to 2014 he held the academic position of Senior Lecturer (Physiology) at the School of Science and Health at the University of Western Sydney where he was affiliated with Biomedical Engineering and Neuroscience (BENS), a research program at MARCS institute. Since 2014 he has been a Senior Lecturer in physiology in the School of Medical Sciences, UNSW Medicine.

Click here to access Dr Ingvars Birznieks' research papers:

3.1 Information encoding by temporal structure of afferent spike trains evoked by complex vibrotactile stimuli

Our ability to sense, discriminate and interpret vibrotactile stimuli underpins some of the most crucial functions of the human hand that relate to object exploration and manipulation.

3.2 The encoding of friction by tactile mechanoreceptors – the key to fingertip force control during dexterous object manipulation by humans

Unmatched human ability to control the hand so that brittle objects are gently held without slipping or being crushed by excessive force rely on sophisticated tactile sense in the fingertips.

3.3 The effects of tonic muscle pain on the sympathetic and somatic motor systems in human subjects

Chronic pain, defined as pain lasting for >3 months, typically develops from injuries to deep tissues such as muscle, yet little is known about how long-lasting pain affects a person's blood pressu

3.4 Adaptation and aftereffects in perception of tactile motion

Sensory properties of the skin covering human and primate hands are unique in the animal world in terms of complexity and ability to extract information.

3.5 Enhanced sensory perception via jitter reduction and neural synchronisation evoked by subsensory electrical noise stimulation – restoring sensitivity in peripheral neuropathy.

The elderly and patients with diabetes are at high risk of losing sensation in their feet and currently no treatment for this condition exists.

3.6 Somatotopic mismatch of hand representation following stroke.

Recovery of hand dexterity after stroke cannot be achieved in the absence of tactile sensory information.

Research team 
Dr Ingvars Birznieks's picture
Dr Ingvars Birznieks
Senior Research Fellow, NeuRA
Senior Lecturer, Physiology, School of Medical Sciences, UNSW Medicine
T: +612 9399 1672
Sarah McIntyre's picture
Dr Sarah McIntyre
Research Officer
T: +612 9399 1672
Patrick Kasi's picture
Patrick Kasi
PhD Student (Visiting)
T: +612 9399 1000