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Project to measure movement disorder receives funding boost

Institute News
Monday, September 7, 2020 - 4:12pm

A Melbourne based research team will be developing a prototype device to measure ataxia, a movement disorder caused by injury to the brain, after receiving a funding boost.

The team from The Florey Institute, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI) and Deakin University will be creating the device thanks to funding from the Biomedical Translation Bridge program administered by MTP Connect.

The $500,000 grant was announced by Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt, with US-based advocacy organisation Friedreich Ataxia Research Alliance (FARA) confirming they will match the government’s investment. 

Ataxia is a movement disorder caused by injury to the brain’s cerebellum area. Associated with many neurological disorders, treatments for the condition have been hampered by the inability to accurately measure symptoms.  

“Ataxia is seen in a number of diseases including multiple sclerosis, stroke, and hereditary forms of neurodegeneration like Friedreich Ataxia,” said Dr David Szmulewicz from the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health.

Fellow researcher, Associate Professor Louise Corben from MCRI outlined the current challenge of treating ataxia.

“Whilst there are multiple treatments in development for heredity forms of ataxia in particular, without clinicians being able to make objective measurements for the condition it makes it difficult to understand the effectiveness of these. We believe that developing a device which uses sensors and sophisticated algorithms to assess ataxia progression will allow these treatments to be fast tracked,” said Associate Professor Corben.

The team from the Florey Institute, Deakin University and MCRI has spent more than five years developing the concept and are hopeful about the benefits that the project will bring to patients.

Project lead Professor Malcolm Horne from the Florey said the funding would provide various health benefits for patients. 

“Although our ultimate aim is to find effective treatments, the ability to monitor ataxia progression will allow everyday lifestyle improvement for many people. Falls, injuries and movement challenges are common for people living with ataxia. We expect that the device can become used in routine care and to inform clinical decisions,” said Professor Horne.

The project has been supported by MTPConnect, the Australian Government's BTB program is a $22.3 million Medical Research Future Fund initiative that provides up to $1 million in matched funding to nurture the translation of new therapies, technologies and medical devices through to proof of concept to turn innovative medical ideas into reality.

The full announcement by the Minister for Health can be found here