NeuRA Magazine #26

News

NOVEL TREATMENT FOR INFLAMMATION INDUCED DEPRESSION

Dr Adam Walker recently joined NeuRA as a Research Fellow and Senior Lecturer at the UNSW School of Psychiatry to lead key projects investigating the effects of neuro inflammation on neuropsychiatric disorders. Dr Walker’s research programs will revolve around the idea that the immune system and the brain talk to each other and are both highly involved in regulating how the other functions.

He will look at how inflammation in the brain can lead to the onset of a range of psychiatric symptoms including depression and anxiety related behaviours, and poor cognition which can potentially push an individual into developing a chronic psychiatric illness.

One of his key projects will look at identifying novel treatments for inflammation induced depression. “Current treatments for depression are ineffective for some people,” says Dr Walker.

“We know that in numerous studies, anti-inflammatories are playing a role to reduce symptoms of depression in patients.

“We’re looking at ways to target the blood-brain barrier and develop a novel antidepressant.”

In a research partnership with Professor Cyndi Shannon Weickert at NeuRA, Dr Walker will investigate the cause of the neuro inflammation in some people with schizophrenia.

“Clearly the brain and the immune system are talking to each other in this case, but the cause is unknown. This is an interesting opportunity to look at how the brain and the immune system communicate with each other and to hopefully help some people through our research,” says Dr Walker.

To find out more about Dr Walker’s research projects including depression and mood changes associated with cancer, please visit his research page at www.neura.edu.au/staff/dr-adam-walker

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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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