The application of this research, Aharon said, is “far-reaching, both in clinical application, and just pure science”.
With a steadily aging population comes increased strain on the public health system and an increase in degenerative disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease. It is not known what specifically causes Parkinson’s, a neurological disorder that affects movement. Environmental factors, as well as aging, can further contribute to neural degeneration.
Aharon is part of a research team at the Bionics Institute. Together, they are working on electronic brain implants and how they could relieve the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. It has been known that implanting electrode to a certain area of the brain will help reduce shaking, the main symptom, in Parkinson’s patients. For those with Parkinson’s disease, the characteristic uncontrollable shaking can significantly impact quality of life. Ideally, the implant will provide relief from the physical symptoms, allowing people with Parkinson’s to live a longer, more comfortable life.
Using FDA-approved technology means the Bionics Institute researchers can focus on streamlining the surgical implantation procedure, making the experience better for patients.
With the vision of combining engineering and biology, Aharon was able to recreate how the brain would react using agarose gels to test how each electrode would stimulate a particular area in the brain. Each gel and set of parameters had to be as close to identical every time to obtain useful results. A minor, but proud achievement, was when Aharon created a perfect consistency in his agarose gel. “It’s a little thing, but it’s nice,” Aharon said.
He added that approaching the problem with a clear head and “to not be influenced by assumptions” is key for all researchers.
The workings of the brain is a mystery and exploring its function gives new insight into treating diseases like Parkinson’s in today’s world.
As graduation looms, Aharon is sure he wants to continue on his path to be a researcher. He says in research “the most valuable thing is experience” and UROP allowed him to gain experience earlier than his peers. He is tossing up between starting postgraduate study or continuing to work at the Bionics Institute. He hopes to explore the field of bionics further to find his own burning research question and is eager to apply everything he has learned as part of UROP.
Article by Melbourne University Masters students Novitasari Ateng, Soumya Mukherjee and Christina Hatzis
Find out more about BioMedVic’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) here.