NeuRA PhD student wins Fulbright

A PhD candidate studying motor neurone disease at Neuroscience Research Australia has been awarded a Fulbright NSW postgraduate scholarship to undertake research in the USA.

Benjamin Cheah, who works with Prof Matthew Kiernan, will spend 12 months in the USA conducting statistical research in the hope of furthering our understanding of this complex disease.

“A lot of neuroscience research is being driven by advances in technology, and we need to be able to interpret the data this technology enables us to gather,” says Benjamin.

Benjamin, whose PhD is about identifying biomarkers for motor neurone disease (MND), will work with A/Prof. Ciprian Crainiceanu, a co-founder of the SMART (Statistical Methods and Applications for Research in Technology) group at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland. He will learn methods for extracting more information from large, complex data sets.

“We’re in an information age, and data is arising left, right and centre,” says Benjamin. “For example, a single 30-minute MRI scan can give you enough data to fill an entire DVD.”

“Research is expensive, so we need to be smart about how we approach data collection… There is a lot of information there waiting to be tapped into.”

Benjamin and colleagues in the Kiernan group are investigating the accuracy of transcranial magnetic stimulation in diagnosing MND. They are also conducting a clinical trial of a treatment for MND. During his year with the SMART group at Johns Hopkins University, Benjamin will learn cutting-edge statistical techniques to maximise the potential of transcranial magnetic stimulation as a biomarker for MND.

Benjamin says that while MND doesn’t have the recognition of some other neurological diseases, he hopes this will change.

“I hope to use this scholarship to take a step forward in terms of becoming an ambassador for MND research in the global scientific community,” he says.