NeuRA Magazine #24


In the Autumn issue, we are excited to talk about the world first breakthrough in spinal cord research, pioneered by NeuRA scientist Dr Sylvia Gustin; the discovery of spinal cord sensation provides so many people around the world with new hope. Also in the issue, we speak with Senior Principal Research Scientist Prof Karen Anstey on dementia and insights from her research on how to age well. We discuss with Prof Cyndi Shannon Weickert, the NSW Chair for Schizophrenia research, and her team, after their return from an international neuroscience conference held in Washington DC. And chat with Dr Lucette Cysique on how the first generation to grow old with HIV are ageing faster, “HIV is no longer a death sentence it is a chronic disease”. This is all in addition to highlighting our early Parkinson’s detection research and, our collaboration with Bowls NSW to launch the Bowling for Better Balance annuals event. The magazine finishes with a welcome interview with A/Prof Tony Roscioli, a recent addition to NeuRA and a group leader on Neuro-genomics.

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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.