Brain studies share national award

Tuesday, 16 December 2003

Research that improves safety for road accident victims, and increased understanding of how the brain is affected by muscle fatigue and stroke, have resulted in three researchers at the University of Adelaide being awarded a national prize for excellence.

The Australian Brain Foundation's Elizabeth Penfold Simpson Prize has been awarded to Dr Robert Anderson from the Centre for Automotive Safety Research and to Dr Mike Ridding and Dr Julia Pitcher from the School of Molecular and Biomedical Science.

Dr Robert Anderson from the Centre for Automotive Safety Research is developing a model that examines how motion and force affect the brain during head impact.

The model is aimed at better understanding the impact on people of motor accidents, and will help in long-term efforts to improve safety for motor accident victims.

"Road accidents are the most common source of brain injury in the motorised world. While many strategies to prevent accidents occurring are effective, once a crash occurs, road users rely on the 'crashworthiness' of the vehicle and devices such as crash helmets to protect them from being injured, or at least to minimise the severity of any injury," Dr Anderson says.

Dr Mike Ridding and Dr Julia Pitcher from the School of Molecular and Biomedical Science have been researching a part of the human brain known as the motor cortex.

"The motor cortex is vitally important for learning, execution and establishing memory of movement skills, such as eating with chopsticks. This is the final common output area of the brain through which electrical signals travelling to the muscles pass," Dr Pitcher says.

"However, it also receives signals coming back from the muscles and nerves. This enables the outgoing signals to be adjusted, but also can change the longer-term organisation of specific areas of the motor cortex."

Dr Pitcher's research has investigated how these changes in motor cortex organisation occur in connection with physical movement and muscle fatigue in healthy people, and how manipulating incoming signals from muscles can mimic or alter this.

Dr Ridding has been using similar techniques to explore the therapeutic feasibility for improving motor cortex function and movement in stroke patients, in whom the motor cortex has been damaged.

"Following four weeks of daily electrical muscle stimulation, improvements were seen in some neurophysiological and functional tests of patients who have suffered strokes," Dr Ridding says.

The tests involved magnetic stimulation of the brain and measuring the responses in the muscles of patients who had experienced strokes and weakened muscles.

Dr Ridding, encouraged from results of this pilot study, plans to extend his research to study a larger stroke population and determine characteristics associated with a positive improvement in movement response.


Contact Details

Associate Professor Robert Anderson
Deputy Director
Centre for Automotive Safety Research
The University of Adelaide
Business: +61 8 8313 5888 (direct line)
Mobile: 0413 300 513
Other: +61 8 8313 5997 (CASR office)

Dr Julia Pitcher
M.S. McLeod Research Fellow
Robinson Institute, School of Paediatrics and Reproductive Health
The University of Adelaide
Business: +61 8 8313 1301

Dr Mike Ridding
Business: +61 8 8313 7592