2019-20 Summer Students
These scholarships are awarded to support high achieving University students to do an ageing focused research project over the 10 week summer break. The aim is not only to achieve high quality worthwhile research, but also to enable these students to gain valuable skills, by working with experienced researchers, who supervise these projects. Due to the generosity of our sponsors, we have been able to award 3 Summer Scholarships to the University of Auckland and for the first time, we also have 2 Summer scholars from the University of Canterbury
David Chan, Auckland University
The Mechanism of CGRP Signalling Pathway in Osteogenic Differentiation & Function
Bone fractures and other bone injuries often cause severe morbidity in the elderly, particularly those with osteoporosis. In these cases, surgical interventions are the primary treatment methods, while anabolic factors that enhance healing, have limited use.
It has been long known that bone tissue has varying composition of sympathetic and sensory innervation. While sympathetic signals are negative regulators of bone formation, the role of sensory nerve fibres in bone healing is not clearly understood. The periosteum (part of the bone most involved in bone healing and formation) is noted to have the highest density of sensory nerve fibres which secrete neurotransmitters, calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) and substance P (SP).
Evidence has shown that sensory nerve fibres play an important role in bone healing and CGRP are the potential mediators of these bone-anabolic effects. CGRP promotes the differentiation of osteoblast while inhibiting osteoclast formation and CGRP knock out mice have shown to have reduced bone density due to impaired bone formation.
Although the role of sensory nerve fibres and CGRP in bone healing is well established, the mechanism and signalling pathway in which it occurs remains unclear. As a potential system for drug discovery, it is important to fully understand the underlying mechanisms, as it may vary depending on the bone cell composition of target tissues. The project I will be working on, under the supervision of Dr Matthews, aims to evaluate several signalling pathways and their involvement with CGRP, regarding both osteoblast proliferation and differentiation. A variety of laboratory techniques will be involved, including immunostaining and real time PCR to help map out these pathways.
A deeper understanding of CGRP and its signalling pathway could pave the way for future translational studies to improve health outcomes for bone fractures as we age.
Lacey Coulson, Auckland University
Detecting eye pathology in elderly patients using novel vision assessment devices
Vision impairment is common in the elderly and can cause significant morbidity, impaired quality of life, loss of independence, and risk of falls. Many older people do not have easy access to ophthalmic assessment.
The ability to accurately assess vision using new tools, including mobile technology, is essential for frail older people in care facilities, with limited access to quality ophthalmic assessments. There are several devices that have been developed for testing vision and refractive error, including a novel smartphone coupled device. This new device has not been tested or compared with existing devices that measure refractive error in a clinical setting.
The aim of this study is to detect eye pathology using several devices, including a novel smartphone coupled device. The project will involve testing visual acuity, and contrast sensitivity in an elderly population, using conventional as well as novel mobile technology.
Conor Nelson, Auckland University
An immunotherapeutic approach to promote learning and memory in ageing.
N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors play a central role in brain development and function and contributes to the pathogenesis of many neurological diseases. We have developed an antibody-based strategy for selectively amplifying the activation of NMDA receptor-mediated signalling pathways that promote neuronal survival and learning and memory.
An immunotherapy that has both cognitive-enhancing and neuroprotective properties would have broad therapeutic utility against a broad range of neurological disorders in humans.
We are currently testing the therapeutic effectiveness of our immunotherapy to determine whether our therapy can prevent the decline in learning and memory function that occurs in aged mice.
This summer studentship project will involve biochemical and molecular analyses of the brains of treated aged and adult mice to examine the effect of the treatment on NMDA receptor expression and downstream signalling molecules.
Kelsey Campbell, University of Canterbury
Speech disfluencies associated with Parkinson’s Disease and healthy ageing.
As part of the Summer Scholarship, Kelsey Campbell (3rd year Bachelor in Psychology at the University of Canterbury) will investigate the relationship between speech disfluencies and Parkinson’s disease. She will conduct her research in the Speech-Language Neuroscience Lab | Te Puna Pūtaiao Ioio under supervision of Drs. Catherine Theys and Megan McAuliffe.
Speech disfluencies commonly occur in the speech of people who do not stutter, but their influence on the forward flow of conversation seems minimal (Bortfeld et al, 2001). This differs from the disfluencies that are the core characteristic of stuttered speech production, which have both qualitative and quantitative differences. However, an increased focus on speech disfluencies in older adults has been observed, especially in studies on populations with acquired neurogenic disorders such as stroke, traumatic brain injury and Parkinson’s Disease (De Nil, Theys & Jokel, 2018).
For example, it has recently been suggested that speech disfluencies are more common in people with Parkinson’s Disease, and differ from those in normal ageing (Juste et al, 2018). Kelsey will contribute to the examination of the presence and characteristics of speech disfluencies in Parkinson’s disease, and whether these disfluencies do differ from those observed in healthy older speakers.
Sarah Hinchey, University of Canterbury
Speech disfluencies in healthy ageing: normative data
As part of the Summer Scholarship, Sarah Hinchey (3rd year Bachelor in Speech and Language Pathology student at the University of Canterbury) will investigate the relationship between speech disfluencies and healthy ageing. She will conduct her research in the Speech-Language Neuroscience Lab | Te Puna Pūtaiao Ioio under supervision of Drs. Catherine Theys, Megan McAuliffe and Doreen Hansmann.
Speech disfluencies commonly occur in people’s everyday conversations. In fluent speakers, the influence of the disfluencies on the forward flow of conversation seems minimal (Bortfeld et al, 2001). However, for people who stutter, speech disfluencies are the core characteristic of stuttered speech production. Much of the research on speech disfluencies has been conducted within the framework of developmental stuttering, and its primary focus has therefore been on disfluencies in childhood.
More recently, an increased focus on speech disfluencies in older adults has been observed, especially in studies on populations with acquired neurogenic disorders such as stroke, traumatic brain injury and Parkinson’s disease (De Nil, Theys & Jokel, 2018). Although most of these clients with acquired disfluencies are over 65 years of age, normative data on speech disfluencies in large groups of healthy older speakers is missing. This complicates the diagnostic and treatment processes for this population. The scholarship is part of a larger project that aims to provide normative data on disfluencies in the New Zealand context.
You can also help by
- Spreading the word about what we do / share this newsletter
- Donating your time to the Friends Supporters to help with fundraising and committee work
- Encouraging your children and grandchildren to invest in their futures by donating time and money (a baby girl born today has a 1 in 3 chance of living to 100 , a boy 1 in 4 and is likely to be fitter and healthier–think about the implications of that)
- Consider a bequest