NeuRA Magazine #29

New Research


The 1,000 Brains Study is a ground-breaking research project to identify the elements in the brain that cause life-changing neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and other types of dementia. This study will focus on the key unresolved question: why do some of us develop devastating neurodegenerative diseases, while others retain good brain health?

The study will not only compare the genomes of people who reached old age with those who have died from neurodegenerative disease, but it will also conduct post mortem examinations to compare the brain tissue in these groups as well. Collecting and researching brain tissue takes place at NeuRA’s Sydney Brain Bank.

The Director of the Sydney Brain Bank at NeuRA, Dr Claire Shepherd, said Brain Banks are essential to underpin research into neurodegenerative disorders. “We can collect brain tissue and do our own research on this in the hope that we can find a cure or a treatment for these diseases and disorders,” said Dr Shepherd.

The 1,000 Brains Project is about understanding the genetics behind neurodegenerative disorders.

“We hope to sequence the genome of these people and understand what genetic risk factors and genes contribute to the disease process,” said Dr Shepherd. Holding the genetic information as well as the clinical information and the brain tissue greatly enriches the research outcomes that can be achieved.



See what’s going on at NeuRA


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.