Neuroplasticity research led by Perron Institute’s Associate Professor Jenny Rodger.

Understanding how brain stimulation affects brain circuits is a major focus for the Perron Institute research team. Senior Research Fellow Associate Professor Jenny Rodger heads the Institute’s Brain Plasticity Research group and is currently in her third year of MSWA funding of $1m over four years. The fundamental research component of this work is currently centred on discovering how brain plasticity affects the way the different parts of the brain interact with each other and the ability of the brain to change and rewire or modify damaged neural connections using non-invasive brain stimulation. This process allows the nerve cells in the brain to compensate for injury and disease and to adjust their activities in response to new situations or changes in their environment. With MSWA’s funding, the Institute has some new equipment and facilities which enable the team to ‘listen in’ to the electrical activity of brain cells and image the whole brain thus progressing our knowledge.

Demyelinating diseases led by Perron Institute Group Director and Clinical Professor Allan Kermode

The most common type of demyelinating diseases is MS and for the thousands of Western Australians living with the condition new treatments offer hope and relief. But for clinicians it’s often challenging to know if a particular treatment is working. The group at Perron Institute is conducting a diverse range of studies that are scientifically related with topics strategically designed to interlink. With funding from MSWA, Professor Allan Kermode, Head of Demyelinating Diseases Research, is carrying out research into the potential of neurofilament light (NfL) to be used as a biomarker of MS activity, using a simple blood test. NfL is a nerve protein that is a component of nerve cells and when nerve cells die, the presence of NfL can be detected in the blood stream. Specific blood tests will not only permit more timely and precise assessment of the response to treatment, but will help guide personalised pharmacotherapy and accelerate the development of new therapies, especially those that may arrest clinical progression. By analysing NfL levels in patients’ blood the team is conducting tests to work out whether this is a useful biomarker as a predictor of MS activity and progression as progression of MS varies widely from one person to another and so does their response to various treatments.

Pilot study TONiC into motor neurone disease (MND) led by Professor Sulev Kōks, head of Genetic Epidemiology Research at the Perron Institute and Murdoch University

TONiC (Trajectories of Outcome in Neurological Conditions) is examining factors influencing the quality of life for people living with neurological conditions. It originated in the UK and is the largest study of its kind in the world. The Perron Institute is continuing its recruitment of people with motor neurone disease (MND) for the TONiC study with the aim of improving services for people by identifying quality of life aspects that are important to them, but which may be underestimated by current service provision. With collaboration with the Motor Neurone Disease Association of WA, researchers are reaching out to potential participants and feedback will be used to tailor the questionnaire for Western Australian patients in the next stage of the project. The study is initially targeting MND, but the intention is to broaden the research to include people with multiple sclerosis and possibly other neurological conditions.

Microscope on Microbiome Research

They say the gut is the second brain, but is gut bacteria disrupting the balance between the gastrointestinal system and the brain for those living with Parkinson’s disease (PD)? Research by the Perron Institute and Murdoch University will investigate this relationship and its potential impact on disease progression. The study, funded by MSWA, will explore short-chain fatty acids, a by-product of bacterial digestion of fibre in the colon, to understand key mechanisms and biomarkers that are associated with PD.

A collaboration between Dr Ryan Anderton and Western Australian researcher Dr Luke Whiley at the Australian National Phenome Centre at Murdoch University, the research will build on ongoing work with Dr Alfred Tay at the Marshall Centre, named after Professor Barry J. Marshall, who was jointly awarded a 2005 Nobel Prize with J Robin Warren.

The gastrointestinal system is considered to have a major role in the pathology of PD and the study will use several motor and neurological assessments to estimate cognitive and motor function of study participants previously clinically diagnosed with PD and compare corresponding data concentrations in their urine and stool samples. The imbalance between the gastrointestinal system and the brain could result in toxic neurological effects leading to the loss or dysfunction of particular groups of neurons influencing the physiological mechanisms that may develop into symptoms of neurodegenerative diseases such as PD and Alzheimer’s.

MSWA CEO Marcus Stafford AM said “with such a fantastic research team behind this topical and relevant project, I’m confident the results will add considerable value to the broader research effort. We’re proud to continue working with the Perron Institute again this year, the fifth year since we have joined forces to work on new and exciting research being carried out right here in Western Australia.”

MSWA is funding several Perron Institute research projects that aim to impact Parkinson’s disease, stroke, acquired brain injury, motor neurone disease and multiple sclerosis (MS), showcasing its commitment to supporting all neurological conditions and Perron Institute CEO Steve Arnott said the institute was grateful to MSWA for the funding, allowing the important research to be conducted. “The continued funding from MSWA is of prime importance in delivering outcomes in our research streams: the financial support provides researchers with the opportunity to continue with their specific areas of investigation all of which are significant unmet need.”