Projects

Each tile includes a summary and discussion of the aims of current research projects at NeuRA.

If you’d like to be involved as a participant, please click here to find out about volunteering for research.

If you are a student and would like to conduct a similar project with one of our supervisors, click here to find out about studying at NeuRA.

The Genomics of Intellectual Disability

Neurocognitive disorders are one of the largest unmet challenges in healthcare, due to their lifelong nature, high management costs, prevalence and frequent recurrence within families. The objectives of this research will be to enhance fundamental knowledge about the genetic basis of neurocognition and the investigation of targeted treatment strategies in relation to biological pathways. Non-coding and copy number variation mechanisms will be explored along, with a study on variable expressivity and non-penetrance in specific syndromes. It will apply genomic technologies to a cohort of at least 200 families with neurocognitive disorders, develop bioinformatics tools and implement functional studies using induced pluripotent stem cells and CRISPR/Cas9 to explore the heterogeneity underlying the genetic aetiology of intellectual disability. The outcomes of this research could enable improvements in clinical phenotyping, genomic diagnosis, common data analysis and reporting standards.

Neuroimaging biomarkers of bipolar disorder risk

Bipolar Disorder is a highly heritable mood disorder characterised by oscillating periods of depression and mania. Previous research has established that this illness is accompanied by widespread changes in brain structure and function. However, the causes of these changes remain unknown. Are these changes a result of the illness process? Are they a product of the medications used to manage Bipolar symptoms? Do they represent the underlying cause of the clinical symptoms observed in this disorder? The Bipolar “Kids and Sibs” Study attempts to answer these questions by studying the young first-degree relatives of Bipolar Disorder patients, who are at increased risk of developing Bipolar Disorder or another related mental illness in the future themselves. As these young “at-risk” individuals have not received a Bipolar diagnosis and are free from medication, they provide a unique opportunity to examine brain differences that relate to both risk for and resilience to Bipolar Disorder.

The aim of this study is to identify neuroimaging biomarkers that may differentiate individuals who will ultimately go on to develop Bipolar Disorder or another mental illness, from individuals who are resilient and will remain well. This may assist in identifying those who are most at risk before they become unwell, and allow for interventions that prevent progression to illness or minimise the impact of this condition.

Healthy and working life expectancies in an ageing Australia

Dr Kim Kiely (Lead Investigator) and Professor Kaarin Anstey (Co-investigator)

Australians are living longer and expected to work for longer than ever before. It is critical that additional years of life are at least matched by the increase in the years lived in good health, and that gains in healthy ageing are experienced across all sectors of society. There is also a great need to balance older adults’ capacity and opportunity to work with societal pressures to delay retirement.

The objective of this three-year project is to better understand individual and societal determinants that underlie variation in healthy ageing. We will identify characteristics that are tied to the years that older adults are able to engage in productive activities and live independently in good health. To achieve this, advanced health expectancy estimation methods are being used to analyse newly available mortality records that have been linked to national longitudinal survey data. These analyses will produce new, refined, estimates for Australia of ‘healthy life expectancy’ with ‘working life expectancy’. We will examine how these differ across sociodemographic strata, change over time, and compare internationally.

The project is funded by an Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Project (DP190100459).

Making sense of hearing-related neurocognitive impairment: The Auditory Ageing and Cognitive Impairm

Dr Kim Kiely (Lead Investigator), Professor Kaarin Anstey (Associate Investigator) and Dr Ranmalee Eramudugolla (Associate Investigator)

With increasing age, nearly all adults experience progressive, irreversible, and bilateral declines in hearing ability. As a result, hearing loss is one of the most common chronic health conditions affecting older adults and if unmanaged its impacts are wide ranging and long lasting.

There is good evidence indicating that older adults with significant hearing difficulties are more likely to experience cognitive decline and dementia, but reasons for this association are unknown.

This project will investigate how hearing loss is related to cognitive impairment. Firstly, it will compare levels of hearing function and use of hearing services by cognitive status. Second, it will examine if the relationship between poor hearing and impaired cognitive functioning is explained by lower levels of participation in activities that are good for brain health. Third, it will investigate if hearing rehabilitation services and hearing aids protect against poorer levels of cognitive function.

Contact: audacious@neura.edu.au

The project is funded by a Dementia Australia Research Foundation (DARF) Project Grant

Self-management and Health Promotion in early-stage dementia with E-learning for carers (SHAPE).

This is a trial designed to test a new intervention to support people with early stage dementia and their care partners. The research will combine three existing interventions based on self-management, health promotion and e-learning into one extended educational program. We hope to improve well-being and support people to live in their own homes for as long as possible by providing the relevant knowledge, information and skills directly to the people with dementia.

Mechanistic studies investigating the role of visuo-spatial working memory in balance and gait contr

There is emerging evidence that visuo-spatial processing is involved in balance control during gait. Importantly, visuo-spatial processing may be key for fall avoidance as it enables one to precisely remember the position and physical characteristics of upcoming hazards; an essential skill for the safe navigation of everyday environments. Yet, investigations of visuospatial processing use for obstacle avoidance have been restricted to animal studies and young adults. No studies have been undertaken in older people or people with Parkinson’s Disease for whom visuo-spatial processing deficits are evident and associated with impaired postural control.

This series of studies will investigate visuo-spatial processing required for obstacle avoidance and navigation in older people, older people at high risk of falls and people with Parkinson’s Disease. We will use motion capture to investigate behavioural outcomes and a freely-worn brain imaging device, functional near-infrared spectroscopy to study cortical activation in regions of interest. We will conduct two experiments one involving an obstacle crossing task and another, a stepping task.

We hypothesize that older age, Parkinson’s Disease and increasing task complexity will result in increased risk of tripping and impaired visuo-motor performance, in the obstacle crossing task and in the stepping task, respectively.

This research will greatly improve our understanding of central mechanisms for fall risk and build on our recent behavioural work in this area.