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Otago scientists gain Neurological Foundation funding

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Monday 15 July 2013 10:44am

University of Otago neuroscientists have gained nearly $390,000 in Neurological Foundation funding for three projects involving stroke recovery, Parkinson’s disease, and improving cognitive performance.


The projects, announced today as among seven funded in the Foundation’s July grant round, are led by Dr Andrew Clarkson and Associate Professor John Reynolds, both of the Department of Anatomy, and Dr Liana Machado of the Department of Psychology. All three are members of Otago’s Brain Health Research Centre, one of the University’s 14 flagship Research Centres.

Announcing the latest grant round, Neurological Foundation Executive Director Max Ritchie said the “…recipients continue to demonstrate the highly innovative thinking that enables New Zealand to remain at the leading edge of research into the understanding, prevention and treatment of neurological disorders.”

The Otago Projects:

Unravelling the functions of delta-containing GABAA receptors after stroke

Dr Andrew Clarkson (Anatomy)

Injuries to the brain as a consequence of a stroke impair cognition and behaviour, typically with limited recovery. Dr Clarkson’s laboratory has recently shown that inhibition within the brain is changed after stroke and essentially silences brain cells. By alleviating this inhibition Dr Clarkson and his team can kick start those silent brain cells and connections, which in turn give back functions previously impaired. The present studies aim to assess novel drug compounds that alter inhibition in the brain and assess whether they can be protective when given early after stroke whilst promote functional recovery when given at a delay of three to five days post-stroke.

Enhancing cognitive performance using transcranial direct current stimulation

Dr Liana Machado (Psychology)

Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) has been successfully used to improve cognitive performance (e.g., memory and attention) in healthy and patient populations. Research indicates that increasing stimulation levels can produce stronger cognitive benefits; however, this increases the risk of side-effects.

Dr Machado’s study will investigate if the cognitive benefits of tDCS can be enhanced by applying tDCS preconditioning prior to low-level stimulation. The aim of her study is to determine the optimal preconditioning parameters for producing the maximum cognitive benefits. This research will be carried out in healthy young adults. Once a more effective tDCS protocol has been identified, it can then be tested in patient populations.

Identifying cell-type specific molecular pathways as new targets for treatment of dyskinesias in Parkinson’s disease

Associate Professor John Reynolds (Anatomy)

Parkinson’s disease is a common neurological disorder that causes, amongst other symptoms, movement difficulties due to a loss of a brain chemical called dopamine. Treatment aims to replace dopamine, however with prolonged treatment, patients can develop severe unwanted movements called ‘dyskinesias’. It is still not understood why this happens. Associate Professor Reynolds’ research, using a model of dyskinesias and state-of-the-art methods, will look at which cells in the brain are affected by dyskinesias, and how changes within these cells can affect their function in the brain. This will also help to identify new pathways that could be targeted for novel dyskinesia therapies.

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