Sensory inputs are crucial to drive movement, whether this be controlling the finger and thumb to hold a pen, moving arms to gesture, or using breathing muscles to speak. We are examining how the sensory system works, how it affects the motor output from the brain, and how it gives us an accurate ‘sensory’ map of the external world, allowing us to make accurate movements.
Maintaining balance is a complex act of processing sensory information and coordination. We are exploring the effects of vision, sensation and vestibular function on balance. We are also investigating the physiology and biomechanics of walking, stepping reactions and trips, and are looking at the risk factors for falls to develop strategies to prevent them.
Breathing requires the coordination of many muscles and control systems in the brain. Our research examines the way the brain controls breathing muscles in health and in diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, spinal cord injury and obstructive sleep apnoea.
Musculoskeletal pain is a major global health problem and a leading cause of suffering and economic burden in Australia. Despite this, musculoskeletal pain is poorly understood, poorly treated and cannot be prevented. Associate Professor Siobhan Schabrun's group at NeuRA is working to solve these problems by exploring the contribution of brain plasticity (‘rewiring’) and other biological factors (hormones, genetics) to the development of persistent pain. The information we uncover is used to design and test novel treatments that target the biology of pain and not just generic symptoms. In the future, we hope to use this knowledge to design early-intervention strategies that can prevent the development of persistent pain.
Our research is focused on low back pain, the leading cause of disability worldwide and the most common reason for chronic pain. It is directed towards understanding why many people with low back pain do not recover normally and develop chronic low back pain. Our goal is to develop and test new treatment approaches that are aimed to prevent people from developing chronic pain and to more effectively help those that have.
Muscle fatigue with exercise is a common experience in healthy people. It is a prominent symptom in people with many kinds of illnesses, including neurological, musculoskeletal, cardiorespiratory, psychiatric and other debilitating disorders. Although processes in the muscle cause some of the weakness of fatigue, processes in the nervous system also contribute to weakness, as well as providing the sensations of fatigue. Understanding the contribution of the nervous system to fatigue will allow better management of this symptom in illness. In addition, study of the nervous system during exercise and fatigue gives insight into the processes by which the motor system adapts to allow successful interaction with the environment.
In addition to more broad sleep physiology interests, the key focus of our sleep research program at NeuRA is to investigate the multiple causes of sleep apnoea and develop and test new, targeted therapeutic approaches for individual patients.
Accidental falls are a major contributor to the burden of disease in older people and a major public health problem. In our overarching aims around identification of common fall risk factors and the development of feasible fall prevention strategies, we adopt a multidisciplinary approach on healthy ageing and falls in older people. Our research projects follow two main themes incorporating components from physiotherapy, exercise physiology, psychology, brain imaging and computer software engineering: (i) projects exploring technology-based solutions to predict and prevent falls in older people, and (ii) projects examining interrelationships among physical, psychological and cognitive factors in older people.
Contracture is a stiffening of the joints that accompanies a wide range of movement disorders, including stroke, spinal cord injury, multiple sclerosis and cerebral palsy. It is a major cause of disability and deformity in these populations. Our research examines the mechanisms of contracture in human muscles using novel biomechanical methods. We also conduct epidemiological studies to quantify the prevalence and incidence of contracture, and predict people who are most likely to develop contracture, and we conduct clinical trials to investigate the effectiveness of interventions designed to prevent and treat contracture.
Our laboratories have a long-standing interest in three fundamental aspects of sensory and motor control. First, how do our proprioceptive senses contribute to control movements and postural adjustments, second, how does the brain drive the motoneurones and muscles, particularly under circumstances when the muscle's performance changes, such as during fatigue, and third, how is human breathing controlled. Much of our work is at the interface between human neurophysiology and translation into understanding pathophysiology in a many clinical conditions, including stroke, spinal cord injury and respiratory disorders.
Control of balance is vital to everyday life. Maintaining balance involves complex processing of peripheral sensory information and precise coordination of motor responses. Our research aims to enhance understanding of human balance and involves investigations of sensory and motor contributions, central processing, behavioural influences in older people and clinical populations with balance impairments. Current studies are investigating stepping responses required for fall avoidance, gait adaptability for obstacle negotiation and the causes of dizziness, .We are also using new technologies (exergame step training and remote sensor monitoring) in large fall prevention clinical trials in older people and people with dementia, Parkinson’s disease and Multiple Sclerosis.
Because neural drive is elevated in many respiratory diseases, our longer term aim is to understand the changes that occur with respiratory disorders, which may lead to new diagnostic methods and treatment approaches.
The Falls and Injury Prevention Group was set up in 2011 and has three specific domains of activity: Fall-related injury epidemiology, applied research and evaluation of models of care, disease/syndrome specific research looking pathology and fall-related injury in older people
The vestibular organ can be damaged by disease, degenerative conditions and by chemical or surgical interventions. When both vestibular organs are damaged it can be severely debilitating. The research in this laboratory has two closely related goals: 1) to understand vestibular mechanisms of plasticity that control the VOR under normal conditions (adaptation) and after injury (compensation) by analysing vestibular-evoked (ie VOR) eye movements; and 2) to apply this knowledge of basic vestibular physiology to the treatment and rehabilitation of VOR disorders in humans.