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UQ team works towards a brain breakthrough

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University of Queensland’s foundation Professor of Clinical Neuroscience Peter Silburn really likes looking into people’s brains.

In fact, with the assistance of neurosurgeon Dr Terry Coyne and a team of researchers, he’s been deeper into the human brain than most people in the world.

His deep brain stimulation (DBS) research is changing the lives of patients with a wide range of neurodegenerative diseases including Parkinson’s, Tourettes, epilepsy and Alzheimer’s.

Microelectrodes are implanted into problem brain cells and connected to a pacemaker-like device, which transmits electrical impulses to the area.

The aim of DBS is to modulate the abnormal nerve signals that cause the symptoms such as tremors and mood disturbance, with success depending on the electrodes being implanted in exactly the right place.

Extraordinarily, patients help guide the process during surgery via simple physical tasks which allow the team to monitor brain cells as they “fire”. This treatment is also shedding light on how the brain works.

Thanks to the diverse talents of the research team, a nonlinear signal processing technique has been developed that enables interpretation of the brain signals sent via the electrodes.

"We are only the third group in the world to go to the deepest parts of the brain and provide treatment, without damage," Professor Silburn said.

Other members of the DBS team are Professor Helen Chenery, Director of the Centre for Research in Language Processing and Linguistics, Dr Paul Meehan, a mechanical engineer in the School of Engineering, Dr Andrew Bradley, a signal processing expert from the School of Information Technology and Electrical Engineering, and PhD candidate Paul Bellette.

Professor Silburn said the research group was widening its focus to include difficult-to-treat types of depression and obsessive compulsive disorder. He said more research was needed to understand individual differences and why certain stimulations, such as amplitude and frequency work in one patient, but not in another.

He is keen to hear from other UQ researchers who are interested in being involved, and is also seeking funding to establish a collaborative research network to harmonise all parts of the research process from biomedical research through to community impact.

(Source: University of Queensland: April 2009)

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Posted On: 31 March, 2009
Modified On: 16 January, 2014

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