Research involving electrical stimulation of the brain as a
potential new form of neurological therapy is among several
University of Otago studies boosted by nearly than $600,000
Otago researchers gained about 60% of about $1 million in
overall funds provided by the Neurological Foundation in its
current national research funding round.
That funding included a $98,794 Neurological Foundation
Repatriation Fellowship, which will enable researcher Dr
Rebekah Blakemore to return from a postdoctoral position in
Switzerland to continue Parkinson's-related research at
Otago's Christchurch campus.
Dr Liana Machado, a senior lecturer in the Otago psychology
department, gained $12,000 to study whether ''transcranial
direct current stimulation'' can improve ''eye movement
control'' among older people.
It was ''fantastic'' that she had gained the funding to help
pursue ''an exciting new area of research'', she said.
Being able to exercise voluntary control over eye movement
played a significant role in effective driving and other
daily tasks, including reading, but strokes and other
neurological conditions could make such control more
difficult to achieve, she said in an interview.
She emphasised that the new potentially therapeutic approach
was ''non-invasive'' and involved brain stimulation by a low
level of electrical current being applied from outside the
Healthy ageing was also associated with difficulties
controlling the eye movement system, particularly when a high
level of strategic control is required, Dr Machado said.
New research had already showed that a non-invasive brain
stimulation technique, transcranial direct current
stimulation, applied over the frontal cortex region of the
brain, could improve eye movement control in young adults,
grant organisers said.
Dr Machado's research aims to determine the most effective
brain stimulation protocol for improving eye movement
control, and to test whether healthy older adults can also
Project grants, totalling $496,487, have gone not only to Dr
Machado, but also to three Otago anatomy academics: Dr Beulah
Leitch ($94,446), Dr Louise Parr-Brownlie ($193,611), and Dr
Ping Liu ($196,430).
Dr Leitch will analyse newly-synthesised proteins, to
investigate if changes in local protein synthesis contribute
to dysfunction that underlies various brain disorders,
including Alzheimer's disease.
Dr Parr-Brownlie seeks to better understand the biological
basis of parkinsonism, including the effect of lack of
dopamine on connections in brain circuits that control
Dr Liu is investigating an amino acid called L-arginine,
which may be involved in the development of schizophrenia.