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NeuRA Magazine #23

TIPS AND INFORMATION FROM DR JUSTINE GATT

With over 75% of the population reporting at least one or multiple major traumas in their lifetime, it is imperative that we understand why some people are more vulnerable and go on to develop mental illnesses like anxiety and depression, and why some are more adaptive and resilient.

In the field of mental health, most neuroscience research to date has focused on understanding what determines risk for mental illness and ways to treat it. In contrast, there are only a handful of studies which have started to look at the neuroscience of resilience and how to promote it.

Dr Justine Gatt and her research team at NeuRA, for the first time, will aim to identify the brain profiles which predict pathways towards resilience versus risk for mental illness over time. The team are currently doing this in a large sample of 1,600 adult twins ranging in age from 18 to 60 years. To start with, we have developed the first composite scale of wellbeing called the COMPAS-W which provides a combined measure of both subjective and psychological wellbeing.

The researchers are keen to test this measure in predicting patterns of resilience over time. To assist with this, Dr Gatt was recently successful in obtaining NHMRC funding to retest the twin sample 8 years after their initial characterisation. This study will be the first of its kind to show the neuroscience of longitudinal patterns of resilience (or risk) across adulthood. Beyond the current study in adults, the team is planning to take these studies to adolescents and children. They have already conducted a pilot study in 200 patients, looking at the promotion of optimal mental health and resilience as a global health priority. They have found some interesting patterns showing differences in levels of wellbeing across different cultures, and how different types of trauma exposure may modulate this process.

Childhood is a crucial period of personal and physical development, and a child’s brain is particularly vulnerable to the impact of different life experiences – both good and bad. It is therefore critical that we understand how trauma may impact the brain differently during different stages of development, and how optimal resilience can be promoted at different ages.

Grab a list of Dr Gatt’s Resilience tips HERE

See what’s going on at NeuRA

FEEL THE BUZZ IN THE AIR? US TOO.

The RESTORE Trial: Immersive Virtual Reality Treatment for Restoring Touch Perception in People with Discomplete Paraplegia

Chief Investigators: Associate Professor Sylvia Gustin, Prof James Middleton, A/Prof Zina Trost, Prof Ashley Craig, Prof Jim Elliott, Dr Negin Hesam-Shariati, Corey Shum and James Stanley While recognition of surviving pathways in complete injuries has tremendous implications for SCI rehabilitation, currently no effective treatments exist to promote or restore touch perception among those with discomplete SCI. The proposed study will address this need by developing and testing a novel intervention that can provide touch restoration via the primary source of sensory perception: the brain.Complete spinal cord injury (SCI) is associated with a complete loss of function such as mobility or sensation. In a recent discovery we revealed that 50% of people with complete SCI still have surviving somatosensory nerve fibres at the level of the spine. For those with complete SCI this is hopeful news as it means -- contrary to previous belief that communication to the brain had been severed by injury -- that the brain is still receiving messages. This new SCI type is labelled “discomplete SCI” -- a SCI person who cannot feel touch, but touch information is still forwarded from the foot to the brain. The project will use virtual reality (VR) in a way it has never been used before. We will develop the first immersive VR interface that simultaneously enhances surviving spinal somatosensory nerve fibres and touch signals in the brain in an effort to restore touch perception in people with discomplete SCI. In other words, immersive VR is being used to re-train the brain to identify the distorted signals from toe to head as sensation (touch). For example, participants will receive touch simulation in the real world (e.g., their toe) while at the same time receiving corresponding multisensory touch stimuli in the virtual world (e.g., experiencing walking up to kick a ball). This project is the first effort worldwide to restore touch sensation in 50% of individuals with complete injuries. The outcomes to be achieved from the current study will represent a cultural and scientific paradigmatic shift in terms of what can be expected from life with a spinal cord injury. In addition, the project allows potential identification of brain mechanisms that may ultimately represent direct targets for acute discomplete SCI rehabilitation, including efforts to preserve rather than restore touch perception following SCI. RESTORE consolidates the expertise of scientists, clinicians, VR developers and stakeholders from NeuRA and UNSW School of Psychology (A/Prof Sylvia Gustin, Dr Negin Hesam-Shariati), John Walsh Centre for Rehabilitation Research, Kolling Institute and University of Sydney (Prof James Middleton, Prof Ashley Craig and Prof Jim Elliott), Virginia Commonwealth University (A/Prof Zina Trost), Immersive Experience Laboratories LLC (Director Corey Shum) and James Stanley. If you are interested in being contacted about the RESTORE trial, please email A/Prof Sylvia Gustin (s.gustin@unsw.edu.au) and include your name, phone number, address, type of SCI (e.g., complete or incomplete), level of injury (e.g., T12) and duration of SCI (e.g., 5 years).
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