NeuRA Magazine #22

LEAVING A LEGACY OF DISCOVERY

Keith and Lucille had never considered how medical research could benefit from the donation of a brain until their world came crashing down. After noticing changes
in her husband, it was revealed that Keith was living with frontotemporal dementia. About one year later, he was also diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. They desperately wanted to help future generations, and decided together that the best way to do that was through brain donation. They knew their precious gift would not only be of tremendous value to researchers now, but that it would create a legacy of discovery for years to come. After Keith’s passing and subsequent donation, an examination of his brain revealed that he was in fact not living with Parkinson’s disease, but had lived with both frontotemporal dementia and the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. These types of findings are crucial in helping researchers and clinicians better diagnose and treat a wide range of brain diseases and is an key part of the reason why Lucille and Keith thought it important to bequest their brains to science at the Sydney Brain Bank.

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Cortical activity during balance tasks in ageing and clinical groups using functional near-infrared spectroscopy

Prof Stephen Lord, Dr Jasmine Menant Walking is not automatic and requires attention and brain processing to maintain balance and prevent falling over. Brain structure and function deteriorate with ageing and neurodegenerative disorders, in turn impacting both cognitive and motor functions.   This series of studies will investigate: How do age and/or disease- associated declines in cognitive functions affect balance control? How is this further impacted by psychological, physiological and medical factors (eg. fear, pain, medications)? How does the brain control these balance tasks?     Approach The experiments involve experimental paradigms that challenge cognitive functions of interest (eg.visuo-spatial working memory, inhibitory function). I use functional near-infrared spectroscopy to study activation in superficial cortical regions of interest (eg. prefrontal cortex, supplementary motor area…). The studies involve young and older people as well as clinical groups (eg.Parkinson’s disease).   Studies Cortical activity during stepping and gait adaptability tasks Effects of age, posture and task condition on cortical activity during reaction time tasks Influence of balance challenge and concern about falling on brain activity during walking Influence of lower limb pain/discomfort on brain activity during stepping   This research will greatly improve our understanding of the interactions between brain capacity, functions and balance control across ageing and diseases, psychological, physiological and medical factors, allows to identify targets for rehabilitation. It will also help identifying whether exercise-based interventions improve neural efficiency for enhanced balance control.
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