The Perron Institute’s Brain Plasticity Research, which includes non-invasive brain stimulation, is now led by Clinical Professor Soumya Ghosh and has been in operation for 25 years.
Brain plasticity refers to the ability of the brain to modify itself in order to respond to new circumstances and to learn new behaviours. The brain has multiple mechanisms that enable it to do this. In neurological disorders, brain plasticity is one of the cardinal methods whereby the brain responds to injury or to progressively developing conditions. An example of brain plasticity is when an uninjured part of the brain takes over a function that used to be performed by a part of the brain that has sustained an injury. For example, the language centres of the brain are normally located in the left hemisphere of the brain in right-handed individuals, but after a stroke that damages that hemisphere, the right hemisphere can acquire language-processing abilities.
Non-invasive brain stimulation is used to up-regulate brain plasticity, to encourage reorganisation in the brain that could lead to some functional improvement in neurological disorders.
The main form of brain stimulation is transcranial magnetic stimulation, which uses electromagnetic induction to stimulate brain cells painlessly and non-invasively using a stimulator coil placed outside the head. The Group has developed stimulation strategies that up-regulate or down-regulate the brain activity underlying the coil, and have shown that under some circumstances, this can lead to improvement in motor performance.
Transcranial direct current stimulation is also a technique used, which passes a very low DC current through the brain that can modulate brain-firing patterns. We are currently trialing this in combination with rehabilitation robotics in stroke, as part of the Restorative Neurology program.
As well as stimulating the brain, we have also recorded function in the brain with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). This has enabled us to study motor, sensory and language systems, and is used in clinical applications for neurosurgical planning.
Current research involves combining these brain stimulation methods with state-of-the-art rehabilitation tools such as rehabilitation robotics. The institute has acquired the first MIT-MANUS robot in Australia. The device, developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is used for upper limb rehabilitation after neurological illness or injury. This device has been given Category A approval by the American Heart Association for use in stroke rehabilitation. It will enable the Perron Institute to carry out highly reproducible physical therapy in combination with defined brain stimulation protocols, to endeavour to improve function in neurological disorders.