Nicholas Sinclair is a Biomedical Engineer and PhD candidate at the Bionics Institute, where he discovered a new brain signal which could radically improve treatment of Parkinson’s disease and deep brain stimulation (DBS) therapy. This signal also provides a new tool for investigating how the brain coordinates movements.

We are proud to share the news that Nicholas is the winner of the CSL Florey Next Generation Award for his discovery. This award is conferred to a current PhD candidate who has demonstrated outstanding capability, creativity and potential in the biomedical sciences and/or health and medical research.

The award has been developed to encourage and support promising health and medical researchers early in their careers, and to complement the Florey Medal which is awarded biennially to an Australian biomedical researcher for significant achievements in biomedical science or human health advancement, and is supported by CSL Limited.

Parkinson’s disease is a common neurological disorder. With approximately 12,000 new cases in Australia each year, the healthcare burden is large and continually growing. It severely affects people’s ability to move, causing extreme slowness, stiffness, and uncontrollable tremor. These symptoms can make it unbearably difficult to perform basic tasks, like eating or getting dressed, and often leads to assistive care.

DBS is a treatment for Parkinson’s disease commonly used when medications become ineffective. It involves surgically implanting electrodes into very small brain areas, and connecting them to a device similar to a heart pacemaker. While DBS can be remarkably effective, several limitations can prevent people getting the therapy they need. For example, the brain areas targeted are approximately the size of a grain of rice, and missing them by a millimetre can lead to poor outcomes including bad side-effects. For accuracy, people need to be awake during surgery, which is very daunting and deters many people. Existing DBS devices are also too simple to adapt to people’s constantly changing needs, and many people do not receive the best possible therapy at all times.

Nicholas’ discovery has the potential to solve these problems. The signal can act like a homing beacon to guide surgery while the patient is anesthetised and is being used to develop next-generation DBS devices that automatically adapt to people’s needs. These advances will provide better therapy to more people, helping them get back to normal lives. They also have potential to improve the treatment of other conditions, including epilepsy and depression.

Learn more by viewing the video below.