Tag Archives: brain

Could magnets stop us falling over?

Non-invasive brain stimulation using an applied magnetic field can strengthen brain connections that weaken as we age.

Perth researchers hope to use this technique to improve the quality of life and reduce the risk of falls and injuries in older people.

Past the age of about 60, there’s a weakening of the structural connections between the three different areas of the brain that control our decision-making processes, our ‘planning’ centres, and our fine-motor control.

It’s the connections between those areas that ultimately allow us to successfully interact with our environment, for example adjusting our foot placement when we step on uneven paving.

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The ageing brain can repair itself

Professor Perry Bartlett is putting people with dementia on treadmills.

Mapping the vast networks of the brain; 10,000 million neurons, each with 10,000 connections. Credit: Queensland Brain Institute
Mapping the vast networks of the brain; 10,000 million neurons, each with 10,000 connections. Credit: Queensland Brain Institute

He has already reversed dementia and recovered spatial memories in mice through exercise. And in 2016 he and colleagues at The University of Queensland will begin clinical trials to see if exercise will have the same impact in people with dementia. Then he’ll look at depression.

Underpinning these projects is the idea that the brain is constantly changing; and that learning, memory, mood, and many other brain functions are in part regulated by the production of new neurons.

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Predicting change, brains, trains and mental health

State Awards

“Trait-based ecology” enables Macquarie University’s Mark Westoby to explain patterns of species occurrence and abundance and to understand the impacts of climate change and changing patterns of land use. He received the $55,000 NSW Scientist of the Year.

Nanocapsules for drugs delivery: Frank Caruso is making miniature capsules that could better deliver drugs for cancer, AIDS and cardiovascular diseases. He won one of the 2014 Victoria Prizes for Science & Innovation worth $50,000.

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Why are cells different?

Genes are not enough to explain the difference between a skin cell and a stem cell, a leaf cell and a root cell, or the complexity of the human brain. Genes don’t explain the subtle ways in which your parents’ environment before you were conceived might affect your offspring.

Ryan Lister’s work transcends plants, animals and humans. Credit: The University of Western Australia
Ryan Lister’s work transcends plants, animals and humans. Credit: The University of Western Australia

Another layer of complexity—the epigenome— is at work determining when and where genes are turned on and off.

Ryan Lister is unravelling this complexity. He’s created ways of mapping the millions of molecular markers of where genes have been switched on or off, has made the first maps of these markers in plants and humans, and has revealed key differences between the markers in cells with different fates.

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Preterm birth linked to teen school angst

Large numbers of premature-born children may be slipping under the radar, say researchers who have found brain development problems in teenagers deemed clinically normal after a late preterm birth.

Children born even one to five weeks premature can show reduced skills later in life.

Julia Pitcher and Michael Ridding, of the Robinson Research Institute, University of Adelaide, found that children born even one to five weeks premature showed reduced ‘neuroplasticity’ as teenagers. Their study provides the first physiological evidence of the link between late preterm birth and reduced motor, learning and social skills in later life.

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Axolotls out on limb for future human hope

An axolotl’s ability to regrow limbs and repair brain and heart tissue could shed light on how humans might one day do the same, after Melbourne scientists discovered the key role played by macrophages, immune system cells, in the animal’s regenerative process.

Axolotls are known for their ability to regrow limbs.

James Godwin and his colleagues at the Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute (ARMI) have identified the critical role of macrophages in axolotl tissue regeneration, raising the hope of future treatments for human spinal cord and brain injuries, as well as heart and liver disease.

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Bionic pioneer explores how we’re wired for sound

Prof Graeme Clark changed the way we thought about hearing when he gave Rod Saunders the first cochlear implant in 1978—now he might just do it again.

3-D reconstruction of the left implanted cochlea in the brain of Rod Saunders. Credit: G. Clark; J.C.M. Clark.; M. Clarke; P. Nielsen- NICTA & Dept Otolaryngology, Melbourne University

Back then, Graeme brought together a team of engineers and medical personnel; now he’s trying to reveal exactly how the brain is wired for sound—by bringing together software specialists and experts on materials that can interface with the brain.

“We’re aiming to get closer to ‘high fidelity’ hearing for those with a cochlear implant,” says Graeme, now distinguished researcher at NICTA and laureate professor emeritus at the University of Melbourne. “This would mean they could enjoy the subtlety of music or the quiet hum of a dinner party.”

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Parkinson answers deep in the brain

A Parkinson patient who can walk again, and improved life for people with the behavioural disorder known as Tourette syndrome.

Peter Silburn and his team are using deep brain stimulation to help movement and mood disorder patients beyond the reach of other therapies. Credit: Sunday Mail.
Peter Silburn and his team are using deep brain stimulation to help movement and mood disorder patients beyond the reach of other therapies. Credit: Sunday Mail.

These are two of the results of a partnership between University of Queensland neurologist Prof Peter Silburn and neurosurgeon Dr Terry Coyne who have ventured deeper into the human brain than anyone else in the world.

Peter treats patients at St. Andrew’s Hospital in Brisbane using deep brain stimulation, a technique that uses electrodes to stimulate a region some 12 centimetres under the surface of the brain.

“There are 100 billion neurons in the brain and we can’t restore all of them. But the deep brain is like a telephone exchange—by stimulating this one section of the brain, you can unblock the flow of messages,” Peter says.
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