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Otago researchers gain Neurological Foundation funding

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Wednesday 11 July 2012 10:01am

Brain scanSeveral University of Otago researchers have received funding to support their studies through the latest Neurological Foundation grant round announced today.

Their research includes identifying the prevalence of Parkinson’s disease in New Zealand, evaluating the efficacy of a stroke risk-reduction tool, and investigating brain stimulation parameters for optimal memory recovery.

Other Otago projects involve studying the effect of high dose ascorbate on brain tumour progression, investigating a novel drug as a potential new treatment for severe chronic tinnitus, and the effects of chronic and fluctuating inner ear dysfunction on cognition.

The University of Otago recipients:

Training grant

Dr Annemarei Ranta
Department of Neurology,
MidCentral Health/University of Otago, Wellington

Efficacy and safety of a TIA/Stroke Electronic Decision Support Tool in the primary care setting to improve patient access to secondary services and overall stroke care in New Zealand

Of the 8,000 New Zealanders who have a stroke each year, a quarter will have previously experienced a transient ischemic attack (TIA). TIAs identify high-risk patients and rapid best medical management reduces stroke risk by 80 per cent. The TIA/Stroke Electronic Decision Support Tool (EDS) is designed to help general practitioners to achieve this potential risk reduction. The project aims to test the efficacy of the EDS tool with regard to stroke reduction, assess any risks associated with EDS use, and establish costs of EDS use compared with usual management. This is the first formal evaluation of a TIA/Stroke EDS tool and, within three years of study commencement, its results will inform policy and practice relating to use of the tool in New Zealand. The information from this study will be compiled with a number of studies into a PhD thesis.

Project grants

Dr Toni Pitcher
Department of Medicine
University of Otago, Christchurch

Parkinson’s disease in New Zealand: Prevalence and medication consumption

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a neurodegenerative disease which causes disabling motor (movement) and non-motor disturbances. Currently, there is a distinct lack of information regarding the impact of PD in New Zealand, with the most recent estimate of prevalence being a regional one from the early 1990s. Up-to-date information on the numbers of people living in New Zealand with PD is important: our population structure is changing, and as the proportion of the population aged over 65 years increases, the number of people living with age-related disorders such as PD will also increase. Dr Pitcher will utilise the national prescription database to analyse PD drug dispensing data and provide an up-to-date estimate of the number of Parkinson’s disease patients living in this country and the trends of anti-parkinsonian medication use. Improved information will contribute to better planning and provision of appropriate patient-directed information and support services.

Dr Patries Herst
Malaghan Institute of Medical Research and
University of Otago, Wellington

Effect of high dose ascorbate on brain tumour progression

Glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) brain tumours are highly aggressive and invasive due to their extreme resistance to radiation and chemotherapy. As a result, the prognosis of patients with GBM brain tumours is poor with a median survival time of 19 months. In the presence of free metals, high-dose vitamin C produces free radicals that kill cells by damaging their DNA. Solid tumours, but not normal tissues, produce the acid and free metals necessary for this to occur. Dr Herst’s team has previously shown that high-dose ascorbate kills significantly more GBM cells isolated from patient tumours, than normal glial cells. This project will validate these findings by determining the effect of high-dose ascorbate progression in a GBM model.

Professor Neil McNaughton
Department of Psychology
University of Otago

Brain stimulation parameters for optimal memory recovery

Memory dysfunction results in brain disorders ranging from traumatic brain injury to dementia. In the brain, the hippocampus and surrounding cortex are implicated in disorders of memory and show slow rhythmic activity (known as theta). Professor McNaughton’s team has recently shown that deep brain stimulation reinstates theta and can repair memory deficits in models of dementia. There is evidence that such stimulation also ameliorates the effects of traumatic brain injury. The effectiveness of the stimulation appears to depend on its parameters and Professor McNaughton and team will optimise these parameters and test their range. This will provide a basis for the transfer of the technique to deep brain stimulation in traumatic brain injury and subsequently to disorders such as dementia and vestibular (inner ear) dysfunction.

Professor Paul Smith
Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology
University of Otago

Novel GABAB receptor agonists for the treatment of chronic tinnitus

Chronic tinnitus is a debilitating condition affecting approximately ten per cent of the population. There are very limited drug treatment options, mainly due to a lack of systematic, well-controlled preclinical drug studies and a lack of understanding of the underlying mechanisms of the condition. It has been suggested that tinnitus is generated in the brain by the hyperactivity of brain cells involved in hearing. This project will investigate a novel drug, which can reduce this brain cell activity, in a model of tinnitus. The goal of this study is to determine whether this drug is a potential new treatment for severe chronic tinnitus.

Associate Professor Cynthia Darlington
Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology
University of Otago

The effects of fluctuating and non-fluctuating vestibular dysfunction on cognition

Damage to the vestibular portion of the inner ear has been demonstrated to produce deficits in spatial memory and cognition. These deficits manifest as an inability to navigate in complex settings (such as supermarkets), and loss of ability to use spatial information (such as map reading). These cognitive deficits have been associated with an increased incidence of anxiety and depression. The aim of this research is to determine if there is a difference between the effects of constant chronic inner ear damage, and fluctuating damage as seen in Meniere’s disease and benign paroxysmal positional vertigo. This will contribute to a better understanding of the symptoms that patients with vestibular disorders experience, and suggest ways that such symptoms might be treated effectively.

More information

For more information on the July 2012 grant round, please visit: Neurological Foundation

A list of Otago experts available for media comment is available elsewhere on this website.

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