NeuRA Magazine #27


World-renowned cartographer of the brain, Scientia Professor George Paxinos AO, from NeuRA has announced the discovery of an unknown region of the human brain. This new region is found near the brain-spinal cord junction. Professor George Paxinos has named it the Endorestiform Nucleus.

Professor Paxinos is the author of the most cited publication in neuroscience and another 52 books of highly detailed maps of the brain. The maps chart the course for neurosurgery and neuroscience research, enabling exploration, discovery and the development of treatments for diseases of the brain.

Professor Paxinos suspected the existence of the Endorestiform Nucleus 30 years ago and now with better staining and imaging techniques he is able to prove it. Commenting on this discovery, Professor Paxinos says it can be likened to finding a new star.

“There is nothing more pleasant for a neuroscientist than identifying a hitherto unknown area of the human brain. In this case there is also the intrigue that this area is absent in monkeys and other animals,” said Professor Paxinos, adding, “there have to be some things that are unique about the human brain besides its larger size, and this may be one of them.”

The discovery of new brain regions helps researchers to explore cures for diseases including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease and motor neuron disease. The Endorestiform Nucleus was noticed when Professor Paxinos introduced the use of chemical stains, combined with imaging techniques, in the production of his latest atlas.

The Endorestiform Nucleus is located within the inferior cerebellar peduncle, an area that integrates sensory and motor information to refine our posture, balance and fine movements.

An increasingly detailed understanding of the architecture and connectivity of the central nervous system has been central to most major discoveries in neuroscience in the last 100 years.

“Professor Paxinos’ atlases showing detailed morphology and connections of the human brain and spinal cord, provide a critical framework for researchers to test hypotheses from synaptic function to treatments for diseases of the brain,” said Professor Peter Schofield, CEO at NeuRA.

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Abdominal muscle stimulation to improve bowel function in spinal cord injury

Bowel complications, resulting from impaired bowel function, are common for people living with a spinal cord injury (SCI). As a result, people with a SCI have high rates of bowel related illness, even compared with those with other neurological disorders. This includes high rates of abdominal pain, constipation, faecal incontinence and bloating. These problems lower the quality of life of people with a SCI and place a financial burden on the health system. A treatment that improves bowel function for people with a SCI should reduce illness, improve quality of life and lead to a large cost saving for health care providers. Bowel problems have traditionally been managed with manual and pharmacological interventions, such as digital rectal stimulation, enemas, and suppositories. These solutions are usually only partially effective, highlighting the need for improved interventions. The abdominal muscles are one of the major muscle groups used during defecation. Training the abdominal muscles should improve bowel function by increasing abdominal pressure. During our previous Abdominal FES research with people with a SCI, we observed that Abdominal FES appeared to lead to more consistent and effective bowel motion. However, this evidence remains anecdotal. As such, we are going to undertake a large randomised controlled trial to investigate the effectiveness of Abdominal FES to improve the bowel function of people with a SCI. This study will make use of a novel measurement system (SmartPill, Medtronic) that can be swallowed to measure whole gut and colonic transit time. We will also assess whether Abdominal FES can change constipation-related quality of life and the use of laxatives and manual procedures, as well as the frequency of defecation and the time taken. A positive outcome from this study is likely to lead to the rapid clinical translation of this technology for people living with a SCI.