NeuRA Magazine #19

Young researchers

WHAT ARE THE PROFESSORS OF TOMORROW WORKING ON TODAY?

Lewis Ingram and Mayna Ratanapongleka

Improving movement after stroke
Lewis Ingram and Mayna Ratanapongleka are working with healthy participants to create baseline information about healthy hand and arm functioning, which will help motor impairment research.

Impairments in the ability to move the hand and arms can result from many diseases and disorders, such as stroke or arthritis, or from normal ageing. These impairments can range from mild to severe (for instance, paralysis). Unfortunately, although this is common and increasing due to our ageing population, there are no standard measures of normal hand and arm function to use as a baseline for documenting upper limb impairments.

In a new study, we are adapting the Physiological Profiling Assessment (PPA), so we can use it to assess upper limb impairments. Currently, the PPA, a widely used diagnostic tool, only quantifies lower limb impairments that cause people to fall.

The study involves measurement of functional performance in tests that, if defective, would impair ability in everyday tasks. The tests are inexpensive and simple to perform and cover the range of physical movements. These include near-field vision, arm and hand strength, hand sensation, manual dexterity and coordination. We are currently recruiting people across the adult lifespan. That is, 20 men and 20 women per decade from 20 to 90+ years of age, so we can develop robust normative data.

Our research will produce simple tests that can be used in population studies and patient group clinics. The information will be valuable for documenting the type and severity of upper limb motor impairments and will enable us to develop strategies to improve function in ageing and disorders such as stroke, Parkinson’s disease, arthritis and peripheral neuropathy.

The impact of early intervention on autism
PhD student Amanda Mazzoni is using a non-invasive brain imaging technique to assess the benefits of early learning programs for children with autism.

Amanda Mazzoni

I’m currently working on a study that aims to find out whether an early intervention program for preschool-aged children with autism affects developmental changes in brain activity. The study will be the first in Australia to evaluate the impact of the behavioural program on brain activity.

A secondary aim of the study is to determine whether baseline brain activity measures can be used to identify groups of children most likely to respond to this intervention program. This is measured using functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS), which is a safe and innovative method of measuring brain activity by projecting light from outside the head into the cerebral cortex, and then measuring the properties of the light that is reflected back.

Since the light transmitters and receptors are both in a cap similar to those used for EEG, this provides a way of studying similar aspects of brain activity to those measured by fMRI, but without needing to be in an Magnetic Resonance Imaging scanner.

I enjoy being able to spend time speaking with parents and building rapport with children who will take part in my study. This relationship building helps in many ways. Firstly, being familiar to the children allows them to relax and increases the accuracy of the data we get, and speaking with parents shows them the value of research and what the importance of a project like this is to the autistic community.

I have started working on a review looking at the practicalities of using near-infrared spectroscopy in autism research and look forward to being able to share these insights with other researchers.

To access to the NeuRA Magazine #19 Schizophrenia research story click here

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Brain and Knee Muscle Weakness Study

Why Does Quadriceps Weakness Persist after Total Knee Replacement? An Exploration of Neurophysiological Mechanisms Total knee replacement is a commonly performed surgery for treating end-staged knee osteoarthritis. Although most people recover well after surgery, weakness of the quadriceps muscles (the front thigh muscles) persists long after the surgery (at least for 12 months), despite intensive physiotherapy and exercise. Quadriceps muscle weakness is known to be associated with more severe pain and greatly affect daily activities. This study aims to investigate the mechanisms underlying weakness of the quadriceps muscles in people with knee osteoarthritis and total knee replacement. We hope to better understand the relationship between the changes of the brain and a loss of quadriceps muscle strength after total knee replacement. The study might be a good fit for you if you: Scheduled to undergo a total knee replacement; The surgery is scheduled within the next 4 weeks; Do not have a previous knee joint replacement in the same knee; Do not have high tibial osteotomy; Do not have neurological disorders, epilepsy, psychiatric conditions, other chronic pain conditions; Do not have metal implants in the skull; Do not have a loss of sensation in the limbs. If you decide to take part you would: Be contacted by the researcher to determine your eligibility for the study Be scheduled for testing if you are eligible and willing to take part in the study Sign the Consent Form when you attend the first testing session Attend 3 testing sessions (approximately 2 hours per session): 1) before total knee replacement, 2) 3 months and 3) 6 months after total knee replacement. The testing will include several non-invasive measures of brain representations of the quadriceps muscles, central pain mechanisms, and motor function and questionnaires. Will I be paid to take part in the research study? You will be reimbursed ($50.00 per session) for travel and parking expenses associated with the research study visits. If you would like more information or are interested in being part of the study, please contact: Name: Dr Wei-Ju Chang Email: w.chang@neura.edu.au Phone: 02 9399 1260 This research is being funded by the Physiotherapy Research Foundation.  
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