Healthcare and education to benefit from stimulating brain research

The nervous system is remarkable in its ability to adapt and change. Through what is known as neural plasticity, it can adapt its structure and function to changing inputs, forming the basis of all learning, memory and aging in the brain.

These brain changes can be driven in humans by transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). TMS works by safely passing a magnetic pulse through the scalp which stimulates the brain; a technique that holds great promise for harnessing the profound benefits of neural plasticity for learning, memory and other cognitive processes. It has even shown potential as a novel therapy for a range of different neurological and psychiatric conditions such as depression, pain and stroke.

However, there are a number of challenges preventing TMS from reliably driving plasticity in humans. In particular, the critical question of how to apply TMS to optimally induce neural plasticity.

In today’s world, stimulation called theta burst stimulation (TBS) is applied using a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach across all individuals and brain regions, in both research and clinical settings. Science is currently lacking an integrated framework for understanding the physiological mechanisms that drive individual variability in the plastic responses induced by TMS, and thus the great potential of TMS for harnessing brain plasticity has gone largely untapped.

That is, until now.

A recent Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) to MICCN’s Dr Nigel Rogasch will enable him to understand how to use TMS to optimally drive plasticity. The results will have a transformative impact – potentially saving millions of dollars in laboratories and clinics, and improving the overall health and wellbeing of thousands.

“We are addressing a significant question in neuroscience – how to best harness brain plasticity,” Dr Rogasch said. “We will use a multi-modal approach to bridge the gap between molecular, cellular, and system-level explanations of TMS-induced plasticity in humans, and will use a combination of molecular genetics, electrophysiology, biophysical modelling, and experimental manipulation to uncover the physiological mechanisms of variability in TMS-induced plasticity across the cerebral cortex.

“We hope to develop one of the first principled frameworks for understanding the mechanisms of variability in TMS-induced plasticity, and to use this information to develop individually-optimised TMS plasticity protocols. Ultimately, we aim for our project outcomes to inform individually-tailored brain stimulation approaches targeting the mechanisms of learning and memory, with potential long-term benefits for healthcare and education. I am very proud to have been awarded this DECRA. Through enabling tailored approaches to reliably alter brain function and cognition, the fellowship will pave the way to realising the full research and clinical potential of TMS.”

MICCN congratulates Dr Rogasch on his success, and looks forward to reporting the positive impacts of the team’s work.

For more information on Dr Nigel Rogasch’s research, please contact him on t: 03 9902 9801, 

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