I was honoured to be the 2016 recipient of the Adam J Berry Award, to support an early career Australian researcher to travel to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the United States. This prize is awarded by the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health and the Australian Academy of Science. For more information on the prize, or how to apply, check out the website here.
In early 2016 I had the pleasure of meeting Dr Mark Hallett, Head of the Human Motor Control Section at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, at the International Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders congress in Berlin. This was a really exciting moment for me. Dr Hallett’s work is concerned with neural control of movement, whether it be the normal physiology of movement, or what happens when things go wrong. This control uses virtually every single part of your brain, it is complex and underlies everything we do. I could barely contain myself when this incredibly senior researcher agreed to support my application for the Adam J Berry Award to visit his laboratory.
Now, the NIH campus is in Bethesda, Maryland. But my house is in Washington, DC. So technically my 16 minute metro ride to work each day is an ‘interstate’ trip. I must say I was worried when I first got here I wouldn’t get anything done with access to so many Smithsonian museums around to distract me. It turns out, the work I am doing here is even more exciting than T-Rex skeletons and astronaut food (only just).
The lectures here are incredible. I refuse to miss any of them. We have clinical neuroscience grand rounds every Tuesday morning, and every single one has been both educational and inspiring. The Wednesday afternoon lecture series pulls you out of the deep neuro-hole into broader science, but is no less interesting. You will see a few blog posts I have written pop-up based on these lectures in the next few weeks.
I have been invited to observe the experiments of several different protocols already since arriving. I have observed protocols using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) with neural navigation, Electroencephalography (EEG) and various other techniques. I have also observed clinical examinations from specialised neurologists of patients with various forms of tremor and Parkinsonian features. With the guidance of the very generous Dr Hallett, I am writing a review on the proprioceptive loss in Parkinson’s disease, which has been greatly informed by what I have seen and heard here already. Once I can pull together all the existing research, we will understand more about balance and proprioceptive loss in Parkinson’s, and learn how to train it, to prevent people from falling and improve their quality of life. Not only will this be a fantastic addition to the existing literature, it’ll be the final puzzle piece in my PhD thesis (yikes).
My time here is not done yet, and I look forward to seeing how much more I can achieve while I am here. In the meantime, the Australian Academy of Science needs support to keep awards like the Adam J Berry Award going, to benefit young Australian scientists for years to come. Learn about how you can support the Academy here.