HRC funds CBR research projects

11 June 2014

Professor Winston Byblow (Sport and Exercise Science) - Individualised neuromodulation for motor recovery after stroke (HRC Project funding $1,179,896, 36 months).

Stroke is the leading cause of adult disability worldwide. Inhibitory tone in the brain is altered by stroke and dictates how plasticity and recovery of function occur after stroke, but this varies from one individual to the next.

The study objective is to identify factors that predict how best to apply non-invasive brain stimulation to modulate inhibitory tone and facilitate motor recovery in the initial days and weeks after stroke. To do this, advanced neuroimaging and neurophysiological assessments will be undertaken to establish links between inhibitory function, effects of brain stimulation on recovery, and patient outcomes.

This project will increase the understanding of the molecular, cellular and neurophysiological mechanisms of recovery of motor function in human patients after stroke, and reduce inequalities in stroke outcomes for people who are more likely to suffer stroke earlier and live with disability longer.

Dr Melanie Cheung (Anatomy and Radiology/CBR) - Augmenting neuroplasticity in the Huntington's disease brain (HRC Project funding $1,189,942, 36 months)

There is evidence to suggest Huntington’s disease (HD), (a progressive neurodegenerative disease that results in deterioration of movement, personality, thinking and eventually death), is at least twice the rate in Māori than non-Māori.

We have been working in partnership with a large Taranaki Maori HD whanau, who after six years of building relationships, is eager for us to begin developing treatments together.

To date the most promising brain disease treatments harness neuroplasticity, the brain's powerful ability to change and adapt itself.

This research project brings together Taranaki Māori whanau, HD scientists and clinicians from the Centre for Brain Research (Auckland University) and Brain Plasticity Institute (San Francisco) to develop computer-based brain exercises that augment neuroplasticity in the brains of people with Huntington’s disease to ultimately slow the course of the disease.

Methods will include Kaupapa Māori approaches to brain imaging, neuropsychology and clinical care (neurology, psychiatry and nursing).

Professor Alistair Gunn (Physiology) - Protecting brain development after clinically silent infection before birth (HRC Project funding $1,151,828, 36 months).

Premature babies have a high risk of neurodevelopmental disability and there is no effective treatment. Although multiple factors are involved, disability is closely linked to infection and inflammation around the time of birth.

In this study, we will first test in preterm fetal sheep whether exposure to a clinically silent dose of a key part of bacterial cell walls for just five days will impair growth of the branches (dendrites) that connect brain cells together, and so reduce the growth and function of the brain.

Researchers will then test whether blocking one of the key inflammatory pathways in the brain will help restore normal maturation of brain cells and brain activity, and determine the window of opportunity for treatment.

This new knowledge will help us understand how cognitive deficits develop in preterm infants, and provide a new way of protecting normal brain development.

Associate Professor Cathy Stinear (Medicine/CBR) - Accelerating recovery after stroke with neuromodulation: A feasibility study (HRC funded project $149,950, 12 months).

Stroke is a leading cause of adult disability. The ability to live independently after stroke depends on the recovery of motor function. This research will investigate whether trans cranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) can increase the rate and extent of motor recovery after stroke.

TDCS is a safe, painless and non-invasive way to increase the activity of the stroke side of the brain. Previous studies have shown that applying tDCS during physiotherapy can enhance the benefits of therapy. However, little is known about its effects with patients at the sub-acute stage.

This feasibility study will evaluate patient and therapist acceptance of tDCS, and estimate effect size and recruitment rate. If feasible, tDCS will be integrated with rehabilitation after stroke in a multi-centre, double-blind, randomised controlled trial.

This research has the potential to improve the recovery of motor function and independence for the approximately 6,000 New Zealanders who experience stroke each year.

For media enquiries email s.phillips@auckland.ac.nz