‘Promoting healthy brain ageing with non-invasive brain stimulation’
University of Western Australia, WA
Co-funded by Gail and Bryan PhD Scholarship
“I have always been amazed at the complexity of our brains and the unseen mechanisms that are integral in maintaining our brain’s ‘healthy’ function.”
Rebecca completed a Bachelor of Biomedical Science (Genetics and Neuroscience) from the University of Western Australia in 2020. With a keen interest in both disciplines, she pursued an Honours project using RNA-sequencing to characterise changes in the cells of the brain following a burn injury, forming a collaboration between the Brain Plasticity lab (Perron Institute) and the Fiona Wood Foundation.
With experience in bioinformatics and a fascination to study the brain, this PhD was formed where Rebecca hopes to use transcriptomics to better understand how non-invasive brain stimulation can be optimised as a tool to promote healthy brain ageing.
Ageing-related diseases continue to be a significant social and economic burden in our society. While numerous organs are affected in ageing, the brain is particularly vulnerable, with older adults having a greater risk of developing neurological conditions such as dementia and Parkinson’s disease. Given the increasing proportion of older adults across the globe, there is a pressing need to provide successful interventions that can help promote healthy brain ageing.
Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) is a non-invasive brain stimulation technique show to be a promising intervention to promote healthy brain ageing. However, it is unclear how different protocols of rTMS alters the cells of our brain and the specific regions most responsive to stimulation. As a result, current rTMS treatments in older adults are not always effective. Therefore, this project aims to investigate the effects of different rTMS protocols to identify a treatment optimally targeted towards our ageing population.
Next-generation sequencing technologies (i.e., RNA-sequencing) will be used to identify changes in the expression of genes following rTMS in a rodent model and human brain tissue, allowing us to determine the cellular functions and biological pathways affected by stimulation. Specifically, spatial transcriptomics is a recent innovation that will be used as part of this project to provide a map of where in the brain these changes in gene expression are occurring. The overarching goal of this PhD is to understand how rTMS can be used to promote healthy brain ageing and contribute to the translatability of this technique into clinical practice.
Supervisors: A/Professor Jennifer Rodger and Dr Alex Tang.