Neuroscience and Neuroendocrinology
“As with many pursuits, you really only understand how something works when you can fix it after it breaks,” says Dr Richard Stein, an expert in the field of neuroscience and how to apply it to help people with impaired mobility. He has devoted much of his forty-year career to the development of leg, arm and hand prostheses that offer better movement capabilities than existing prostheses. One of his current projects is a ‘foot drop stimulator’ for people who, after a stroke, tend to drag one of their feet when they walk. The WalkAide2™ is in multi-centre clinical trials.
“I love research for two reasons,” says Stein. “It’s exciting to understand things that have never been understood before; and I love the fact that my curiosity in the lab and the research I’ve done has led to products that help the lives of disabled people.”
Richard Stein, Physiology
Kaplan Award 2001
The study of brain function and mental processes and their associated clinical disorders has emerged as one of the most prominent disciplines in the biological sciences. Since the early 1980s, a number of excellent neuroscience teaching and research programs have been established, primarily in the Faculties of Medicine and Dentistry, Rehabilitation Medicine, and Science; their cumulative significance has been recognized in the establishment of the University Centre for Neuroscience.
There are five main research groups:
The Rehabilitation Neuroscience Group is working to understand the nervous control of limb movements. Team members have developed a variety of devices to improve motor function in people with paralysis or amputation. Among these are the WalkAide™, a microprocessor-controlled artificial leg, and the Bionic Glove™, which helps spinal-injured patients to grasp.
In the Neurochemical Research Unit, primary areas of interest are depression, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders, stroke, drug metabolism, and drug-drug interactions.
Outstanding clinical research and a dedicated MRI centre allow the Clinical Neuroscience research team to examine neuronal loss and alterations resulting from neurodegenerative conditions (such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's) and stroke. A significant number of trials are in progress examining the potential usefulness of neuroprotective agents.
Faculty members in the Nervous Control of Walking Group are world experts on general principles of locomotor control. The research is important to facilitating recovery after spinal cord injury and to designing walking robots.
The Neuroendocrinology Group explores the complex interactions between neuronal networks and endocrine glands in both central and peripheral nervous systems. Its work focuses on the regulation and action of neuroendocrine signals, and the senior members of the group have pioneered studies in hypothalamo-pituitary function. The group's high-calibre research has been published in major journals such as Nature and Neuron.