04:39am Monday 16 December 2019

Virtual reality offers insight into Parkinson's disease

Conducted by the University of Sydney’s Brain and Mind Research Institute and funded by The Michael J Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, the study uses functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and a customised ‘virtual reality’ environment to elicit the so-called Freezing of Gait (FOG) in PD patients. FOG is a leading cause of falls among PD patients and responds poorly to current treatments.

“While the mechanisms underlying FOG are unknown, our group recently proposed that these episodes may reflect a temporary overload in specific circuits of the brain,” says the study’s principle investigator Dr Simon Lewis.

“Initial results have been very exciting and certainly confirm our belief that this study will identify the processes underlying FOG in Parkinson’s.”

Whilst lying in an MRI brain scanner, patients with PD use foot pedals to ‘walk’ through a realistic three-dimensional environment depicted on a small screen. The virtual environment task probes the cognitive processes that often provoke freezing episodes (e.g. sliding doors) or alleviate them (e.g. striped floors).

Combining fMRI with the virtual reality task helps researchers identify the abnormal pattern of brain activation responsible for FOG in PD.

Dr. Lewis, will present the study and its progress at the inaugural International Workshop on Freezing in Washington DC next week.

For further information please contact Dr Simon Lewis, Head, Parkinson’s Research Clinic & Neurologist, Brain & Mind Research Institute. T: +61 2 9515 7565, M: 0420 754663 E: simonl@med.usyd.edu.au

Media inquiries: Sarah Stock, sarah.stock@sydney.edu.au, 0419 278 715.

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