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Miller Lab research

CollaborationsStudent research projects | Publications

About Dr Steven Miller

Dr Steven Miller is a clinician scientist with an MBBS (UQ), PhD in neuroscience and psychiatry (UQ) and Masters in Occupational and Environmental Health (Monash). He has maintained a combined clinical and research career and has been an NHMRC Medical Post-Graduate Scholar and a Victorian Neurotrauma Initiative (VNI) Early Career Practitioner Fellow. Dr Miller has obtained competitive funding from NHMRC, VNI, Brain and Behaviour Foundation USA (a NARSAD Young Investigator Award), Defence Health Foundation, Monash Institute of Medical Engineering and the Victorian Government’s Department of Health and Human Services. He is presently a senior research fellow (adjunct) and he heads the Perceptual and Clinical Neuroscience Lab at Monash BDI. He is also an affiliate at Monash Alfred Psychiatry Research Centre and Alfred Health.

Dr Miller is an authority in clinical and genetic binocular rivalry studies and published the seminal research in this field. He also conducts brain stimulation research utilising vestibular neuromodulation in healthy and clinical populations and he is driving the call for more research to be conducted on clinical applications of this promising technique. Dr Miller is also active in the scientific and theoretical study of consciousness. He has published foundational theoretical analyses, edited two volumes of collected papers for Advances in Consciousness Research (John Benjamins, Amsterdam), and was recently appointed editor of this book series. Dr Miller’s clinical work combines occupational and pain medicine, with a focus on pain neuroscience and biopsychosocial contributors to persistent pain. He is a medical advisor on the clinical panels of the Victorian Government’s WorkSafe and Transport Accident Commission and this role has enabled him to develop a new model of care for persistent pain management.


Our research

We are interested in the visual phenomenon of binocular rivalry. We study individual differences in, and mechanisms underlying, this phenomenon using psychophysics, eye movement recording and brain stimulation. Our main focus however, is on translational clinical and genetic binocular rivalry applications. To facilitate standardisation for such studies worldwide, we are developing an online platform for binocular rivalry testing that will be available to researchers with or without expertise in psychophysics. This will help to answer important clinical translation questions regarding the potential use of binocular rivalry to diagnose psychiatric disorders or to predict medication-responsiveness irrespective of diagnosis. We are also aiming to validate the online binocular rivalry test platform for use in home-based settings so as to enable collection of the massive datasets required for clinical psychiatric genetic studies that can use binocular rivalry as a biomarker (or endophenotype).

Our research also examines brain stimulation in clinical treatment studies. Specifically, we are examining the simple, inexpensive and safe brain stimulation technique of vestibular neuromodulation to treat persistent pain states, mood disorders and other psychiatric and neurological disorders. We also apply vestibular neuromodulation to healthy subjects to examine cognitive processes and we use other brain stimulation techniques such as transcranial magnetic stimulation. The lab is also progressing experimental and theoretical research in consciousness science, using both binocular rivalry and brain stimulation as empirical methods and heuristics. Finally, we have also recently developed an implementation focus with proposal of a new model of care for persistent pain management that relies heavily on injured individuals understanding principles of contemporary pain neuroscience and the powerful biopsychosocial influences on pain’s persistence.

Current projects

1. Mechanisms, individual differences, genetics and clinical applications of binocular rivalry

Binocular rivalry is a perceptual phenomenon in which different images presented simultaneously, one to each eye, are perceived in alternation every few seconds. Dr Miller discovered (with Prof. Jack Pettigrew) that binocular rivalry is slow in bipolar disorder and (with Prof. Nick Martin and A/Prof. Margie Wright) that individual variation in binocular rivalry rate is substantially genetically determined. The lab’s current research is advancing translational clinical and genetic binocular rivalry research by developing a standardised online platform for lab-based and home-based binocular rivalry testing. The project will provide a standardised method of binocular rivalry testing that can be used worldwide by any researcher with or without expertise in psychophysics. This will help to answer important clinical translation questions regarding the potential use of binocular rivalry to diagnose psychiatric disorders or to predict medication-responsiveness irrespective of diagnosis. The method will also enable more efficient performing of psychiatric genome-wide association studies that use binocular rivalry as a biomarker (or endophenotype) to improve power in such studies. This work is in collaboration with Dr Kirsten Ellis (Monash Faculty of IT), Prof. Nick Martin and Prof. Sarah Medland (Genetic Epidemiology Lab, QIMR-Berghofer), as well as other collaborators.

To learn more about the ‘Binocular Rivalry Online’ project, go to: www.binocularrivalryonline.com

In addition to genetic and clinical translational applications, we are interested in the neural mechanisms underlying binocular rivalry. We apply brain stimulation techniques to healthy and mood disordered subjects to examine these mechanisms. We also use eye movement recording and studies by lab post-doc, Dr Law, have shown that individual differences in rivalry rate cannot be explained by eye movement profiles in either healthy or bipolar subjects. We are also further examining the pathophysiological model of bipolar disorder proposed by Dr Miller (with Pettigrew) that integrated the finding of slow binocular rivalry in bipolar disorder with brain stimulation findings showing an interhemispheric switch mediates rivalry. The bipolar disorder model involves the notion of genetically period-coupled oscillators driving various biological rhythms and we also conduct research on such rhythms and their mechanisms.

2. Vestibular neuromodulation in pain, mood and other clinical disorders

The vestibular system is an ancient neural system that in addition to balance, posture, spatial orientation and gaze control, has strong neural connections to higher-cortical systems subserving a wide variety of cognitive, affective and other processes. The subcortical and cortical targets of vestibular afferent projections can be stimulated simply, safely and inexpensively using caloric vestibular stimulation (irrigation of cold water into the external ear canal). Two key brain regions (amongst several) activated following caloric vestibular stimulation are the anterior cingulate cortex and the anterior insular cortex. These regions have been implicated in pain disorders and nearly all psychiatric disorders. We examine the potential clinical applications of this brain stimulation technique, with a focus on various pain disorders (phantom limb pain, spinal cord injury pain, complex regional pain syndrome, back and other musculoskeletal pain, central pain) and mood disorders (bipolar disorder, major depression), as well as other psychiatric and neurological disorders.  We also apply this technique to healthy subjects to examine mechanisms and modulation of various cognitive processes.

3. The science and theory of consciousness

Consciousness has long been the subject of vigorous philosophical debate. More recently it has been examined empirically and there is now a thriving scientific study of consciousness. Development of this nascent science has required concerted interdisciplinary interaction between neuroscientists, psychologists, cognitive scientists and philosophers. Indeed the science of consciousness could not operate in the absence of philosophical and theoretical analyses. Dr Miller has contributed to this field with a series of papers on foundational issues for consciousness science and theory, and has edited two collected volumes of papers for the book series, Advances in Consciousness Research (John Benjamins, Amsterdam). Dr Miller was recently appointed editor of this book series: https://benjamins.com/catalog/aicr

4. A model of care for persistent pain management

A paradigm shift has occurred in pain neuroscience in the last two decades. Pain has been reconceptualised as being a marker not of actual or potential bodily tissue damage or disease, but rather of the perceived need to protect bodily tissue. Understanding this and other contemporary principles of pain neuroscience is critical for individuals who experience persistent pain, as is a sound understanding of the many biopsychosocial contextual drivers to pain’s persistence. Similarly the value of returning to (good) work in creating positive contextual drivers for recovery from injury and for the prevention of persistent pain is critical for injured individuals to understand. Dr Miller has proposed a model of care for the management and prevention of persistent pain, particularly in workers and accident compensation schemes, which draws on these critical developments in pain neuroscience and injury management. The model of care is termed ‘Occupational Pain Medicine’, and further information about the model can be found at: www.occpainmed.com.au

Visit Dr Miller's Monash research profile to see a full listing of current projects.


Collaborations

We collaborate with many scientists and research organisations around the world. Some of our more significant national and international collaborators are listed below. Click on the map to see the details for each of these collaborators (dive into specific publications and outputs by clicking on the dots).

  • Dr Kirsten Ellis, Monash University
  • Prof Nick Martin, QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute
  • Prof Sarah Medland, QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute
  • Dr Lucia Colodro Conde, QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute
  • A/Prof Margie Wright, Queensland Brain Institute
  • Prof Michael Berk, Deakin University
  • Prof Philip Mitchell, University of New South Wales
  • Prof Ian Hickie, Sydney University
  • Dr Patrick Goodbourn, University of Melbourne
  • Prof Paul Fitzgerald, Monash University
  • Prof Daphne Flynn, Monash University
  • Dr Andrew Nunn, Monash University
  • Prof Ian Jones, Cardiff University
  • Dr Xavier Caseras, Cardiff University
  • Prof Allan Young, Kings College London

Student research projects

The Miller Lab offers a variety of Honours, Masters and PhD projects for students interested in joining our group. There are also a number of short term research opportunities available.

Please visit Supervisor Connect to explore the projects currently available in our Lab.