Current Projects

The ABIRA team are involved in a wide range of research projects aimed at enhancing the benefits of rehabilitation for people who have sustained a brain injury through disease or trauma. Here are some of our current projects.


Asset-based approaches for stroke survivors with aphasia: promoting and sustaining well-being in the long-term

Key Contact: Dr Simon Horton

Asset-based approaches for stroke survivors with aphasia: promoting and sustaining well-being in the long-term. Research Capability Funding, Norfolk and Waveney CCGs . Horton S, Gracey F, Shiggins C, Duffy I

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Key Contact: Dr Simon Horton

Asset-based approaches for stroke survivors with aphasia: promoting and sustaining well-being in the long-term. Research Capability Funding, Norfolk and Waveney CCGs . Horton S, Gracey F, Shiggins C, Duffy I


Bedside assessment in disorders of consciousness

Key Contact: Dr Srivas Chennu

This project will develop a suite of hierarchical high-density EEG-based test for measuring residual brain activity at the patient’s bedside to predict cognitive function independent of behavioural responses.

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Key Contact: Dr Srivas Chennu

This project will develop a suite of hierarchical high-density EEG-based test for measuring residual brain activity at the patient’s bedside to predict cognitive function independent of behavioural responses.

Over the past decades, effectiveness of neurointensive care for sustaining life in Disorders of Consciousness has significantly improved. However, relatively little is understood about the cognitive underpinnings of these profound neurological disorders. Accurate behavioural diagnosis and prognosis have been challenging, and the likelihood of misdiagnosis is estimated to be as high as 40%. Recent advances in functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) have shown that it can be used to visualise brain structure and measure its function in DoC. This project will help improve diagnoses by developing a suite of hierarchical high-density EEG-based tests for measuring residual brain activity in patients at their bedside. The project intends to design and implement software for detecting such volitional brain activity in real-time. This will directly aid the instrumentation of specialised Brain-Computer Interfacing (BCI) systems to translate this activity into commands for simple communication. For some patients these interfaces could provide a basic but reliable communication channel.

This research was funded/supported by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).


Decoding neural representations of human tool use from fMRI response patterns

Research Team: Dr. Stephanie Rossit (PI) & Dr. Fraser W Smith (Co-PI)

Key Contact: S.Rossit@uea.ac.uk 

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Research Team: Dr. Stephanie Rossit (PI) & Dr. Fraser W Smith (Co-PI)

Key Contact: S.Rossit@uea.ac.uk 

Funding body: Bial Foundation (Portugal), website:

https://www.bial.com/en/bial_foundation.11/foundation.15/bial_foundation.a36.html

Amount: 47510€

Summary:

Complex tool use (such as using a knife) is considered a typical human behaviour and its emergence is believed to be a critical step in the evolution of primates, even thought to delineate the appearance of Homo sapiens. This project will provide a novel investigation of the underlying neural representations of real hand actions towards 3D tools in the human brain, by implementing cutting-edge functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) techniques, state-of-the-art multivoxel pattern analysis methods (MVPA) as well as advanced motion-tracking methods. Importantly, rather than presenting ungraspable pictures of objects on a flat 2D screen or having subjects imagine or pretend to do tool use acts, this project will actually involve participants performing hand actions directed at 3D tools, as would be the case in the natural environment.

This research will involve measuring the brain activity of participants while they perform real actions towards 3D-printed tools inside the 3T MRI scanner at NNUH using a purpose built ‘real action’ set-up (see Fig.1) as well as measuring their hand movements using motion-tracking equipment at the Vision & Action Laboratory (School of Psychology). The knowledge from healthy subjects will help us understand how goal-directed actions are disrupted in brain-damaged patients, specifically in patients who suffer from motor deficits (hemiparesis, apraxia).

In addition, developments in technologies (neural prosthetics) may one day enable patients, for example amputees or patients with spinal cord injury, to use brain signals fed into a computer chip to control movements of an artificial arm. Our research will provide an important stepping stone for such technology: we are developing a more realistic understanding of the brain networks involved in controlling tool use. Importantly our research studies involve naturalistic actions performed on real objects, factors that are critical in bridging the gap between basic research and everyday life.

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European Cooperation in Science and Technology Collaboration of Aphasia Trialists (COST CATs)

http://www.aphasiatrials.org/ : Simon Horton and Ciara Shiggins are members of Working Group 5 http://www.aphasiatrials.org/index.php/working-groups/reintegration/reintegration-members, focusing on Societal Impact and Reintegration Research. We are currently collaborating with members from the UK, Ireland, Denmark, Norway and Israel to further our study of the relevance and potential of asset-focused approaches to living with aphasia.

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http://www.aphasiatrials.org/ : Simon Horton and Ciara Shiggins are members of Working Group 5 http://www.aphasiatrials.org/index.php/working-groups/reintegration/reintegration-members, focusing on Societal Impact and Reintegration Research. We are currently collaborating with members from the UK, Ireland, Denmark, Norway and Israel to further our study of the relevance and potential of asset-focused approaches to living with aphasia.


Mechanisms of axonal protection in a human stem cell model of diffuse axonal injury

Key Contact: Dr Alexis Joannides

Diffuse axonal injury (DAI) is recognised as one of the key pathological features which most closely correlates with clinical phenotype in traumatic brain injury (TBI).

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Key Contact: Dr Alexis Joannides

Diffuse axonal injury (DAI) is recognised as one of the key pathological features which most closely correlates with clinical phenotype in traumatic brain injury (TBI).

Early pathological studies have demonstrated that mechanical trauma can lead to axonal damage in the absence of direct mechanical tearing. The recognition of secondary axonal injury over a period of hours and its potential evolution into a chronic neurodegenerative process creates a window of opportunity for disease-modifying therapies aimed at axonal protection and preservation. Investigating the molecular basis of axonal degeneration and protection in the context of TBI is dependent on the presence of appropriate cellular models.

Axonal stretch in vitro has been shown to replicate many of the structural consequences of DAI, and both organotypic and single cell-based models have been developed. Recent reports utilising such models are beginning to provide insight into potential disease mechanisms. On this background the project proposes to develop a human stem cell-based axonal stretch model to investigate the role of injury-induced axonal degeneration, and explore its modulation by both genetic and environmental means. The program of work will build on our previous experience with ex vivo modelling using human stem cell populations and will ultimately provide a platform for the development of novel disease-modifying and neuroprotective therapies in TBI.

This research was funded/supported by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).


Mind your head

Key Contact: Austin Willett

In collaboration with The Brain Injury HTC, Headway Cambridgeshire launched Mind Your Head, an initiative designed to find solutions to some of the problems experienced by people with brain injuries.  The project’s starting point was to identify the unmet needs of Headway Cambridgeshire clients, and then aid collaboration between industry and the third sector.

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Key Contact: Austin Willett

In collaboration with The Brain Injury HTC, Headway Cambridgeshire launched Mind Your Head, an initiative designed to find solutions to some of the problems experienced by people with brain injuries.  The project’s starting point was to identify the unmet needs of Headway Cambridgeshire clients, and then aid collaboration between industry and the third sector.

From this, an idea for a board game was developed, designed by people with a brain injury for people with a brain injury.  The game is designed to be something which people with a cognitive impairment can play with their family and friends, combines the challenge of rational thinking with a social element and a degree of competitiveness, and enables people to learn whilst playing.  Over the past year development funding has enabled a prototype of the board game – ‘Brain Maze’ to be developed.  The next stage is for the game to be manufactured and taken to market, although further investment will be required for this to happen. 

If anyone would like to support this initiative further please contact Austin Willett at Headway Cambridgeshire on 01223 576550.


REhabilitation and recovery of peopLE with Aphasia after StrokE (RELEASE)

Key Contact: Dr Simon Horton

REhabilitation and recovery of peopLE with Aphasia after StrokE (RELEASE): Utilizing secondary data to enhance speech and language therapy interventions for people with aphasia after stroke. NIHR HS&DR. Professor Marian Brady; Dr S Horton et al. (2015-2017)

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Key Contact: Dr Simon Horton

REhabilitation and recovery of peopLE with Aphasia after StrokE (RELEASE): Utilizing secondary data to enhance speech and language therapy interventions for people with aphasia after stroke. NIHR HS&DR. Professor Marian Brady; Dr S Horton et al. (2015-2017)


Tele-rehabilitation device to enhance walking following ABI

Key Contact: Dr Celia Clarke

After a brain injury some people may experience difficulty moving their leg and therefore have problems with walking. The ability to control ankle movement has been shown to be an important feature of walking recovery following a brain injury and therefore the design of rehabilitation programmes and devices which can improve ankle control is desirable.

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Key Contact: Dr Celia Clarke

After a brain injury some people may experience difficulty moving their leg and therefore have problems with walking. The ability to control ankle movement has been shown to be an important feature of walking recovery following a brain injury and therefore the design of rehabilitation programmes and devices which can improve ankle control is desirable.

Research programmes have investigated whether virtual reality systems can be used to deliver exercises aimed at improving ankle control, and there is evidence to suggest that these systems have led to better walking recovery. However these systems are often bulky and expensive. In this project we want to develop a smart ‘wobble board’ which will be designed to deliver ankle exercises to people with brain injury. This product aims to be a portable low cost system that could be used in both clinical settings and in people’s own home.

The research was funded/supported by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Brain Injury Healthcare Technology Co-operative based at Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and University of Cambridge.  The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NHS, the NIHR or the department of Health.