The Health Research Council of New Zealand has announced $1.1 million in funding to investigate the use of a promising neuromodulatory intervention for bilateral vestibular disorders.
Project Lead and Professor of Physiotherapy at AUT, Denise Taylor, says: “This funding extends the work of our team using brain stimulations to boost the effects of rehabilitation”.
Taylor is Co-Director of the AUT Health and Rehabilitation Research Institute and leads a multidisciplinary team of researchers in neurological rehabilitation.
The inner ear, or vestibular system, is important for the maintenance of balance. Containing specialised receptors, it detects head movement in three-dimensions. This information combines with information from vision and sensors in the limbs, allowing us to move around safely.
When vestibular information is lacking people experience persistent unsteadiness and blurred vision, and are at a high risk of falling. Bilateral vestibular loss has a significant negative effect on people’s function and quality of life.
“People with impairments in the vestibular system on both sides struggle to maintain balance and there is very little effective rehabilitation on offer,” says Taylor.
This research investigates noisy galvanic vestibular stimulation (nGVS), in which subsensory electrical stimulation is applied over the mastoid processes to enhance vestibular function.
Phase 1 personalises and optimises the stimulation parameters. Phase 2 is a clinical trial investigating the effect of the nGVS when combined with balance rehabilitation.
“Low-level noisy galvanic vestibular stimulation combined with targeted and personalised rehabilitation may offer a rehabilitation solution that improves the lives of people with bilateral vestibular disorders,” says Taylor.
Taylor will lead a project team that includes Professor Rachael Taylor (University of Auckland); Professor Paul Smith, and Associate Professor Yiwen Zheng (University of Otago); Dr Usman Rashid, and Ruth McLaren (Auckland University of Technology).
McLaren will complete her PhD as part of this project. She currently works as a Research Officer within the AUT School of Clinical Sciences and was project manager for several studies that implemented technology to improve rehabilitation outcomes. Her clinical background is in physiotherapy.
“As a postgraduate student, it’s great to be able to work with researchers who are already well-established in this field. I’m particularly excited to explore nGVS as a clinical treatment option. This HRC funding has enabled me to expand the scope of my PhD research into something that may benefit many New Zealanders,” says McLaren.