Our PhD Grant Recipients for 2024

Parkinson’s Queensland has recently awarded three scholarships, each valued at $10,000, to PhD students in Queensland engaged in significant research on aspects of Parkinson’s Disease that will contribute substantially to improving the lives of those with Parkinson’s in the medium term.Meet our three grant recipients and learn more about their Parkinson’s research projects below. 

If you’d like to sponsor a student in our next round of PhD research grants, please get in touch with us at pqi@parkinsonsqld.org.au 

Shanshika Maddumage Dona

Shanshika completed her Bachelor of Science honours in Physiotherapy from the University of Colombo Sri Lanka.  With a passion for research in the field of Parkinson’s disease rehabilitation, she started her PhD at the Movement Neuroscience group of the Queensland University of Technology under the supervision of Prof. Graham Kerr. In her PhD, she investigates how smart shoes and haptic cues will impact the gait and mobility of individuals with Parkinson’s Disease. 

Summary of the project: Our project’s primary focus is to improve gait, mobility and, consequently, enhance the quality of life of people with Parkinson’s Disease (PD) living in Queensland. For this purpose, we will use smart shoes termed “NUSHU ™,” developed by our industry partner Magnes AG (Zurich, Switzerland).  These shoes will use innovative technologies to obtain objective gait measures, which allow continuous monitoring of patients’ gait even within the comfort of their homes. Additionally, they offer haptic biofeedback to the wearer and assist them in walking when they face walking difficulties. The project’s initial phase aims to validate the NUSHU ™ smart shoes against gold standards in gait monitoring. The second phase of the project is to determine the immediate effectiveness of haptic cues generated by the shoes in improving gait and mobility in individuals with Parkinson’s Disease. The final phase is aimed at determining the long-term effectiveness of these haptic cues on participants’ gait, mobility and overall quality of life.

Eugenia Ferreiro

Eugenia Ferreiro is a third-year PhD student at the Computational and Molecular Biology laboratory led by Prof. Geoffrey Faulkner at the Queensland Brain Institute, University of Queensland. 

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a neurodegenerative disorder characterised by the selective loss of dopaminergic neurons in a specific brain area, known as substantia nigra. However, the reasons for of this neuronal loss are not fully understood. In her project, Eugenia is focused on studying a novel genetic factor that emerged as a potential driver of cell death in these neurons: the retrotransposon LINE-1. She discovered that the most resilient population of dopaminergic neurons in PD patients has lower LINE-1 expression. This suggests that the neurons with high LINE-1 expression are lost during disease progression.

With the support of Parkinson’s Queensland, Eugenia plans to study whether blocking LINE-1 activity in human dopaminergic neurons offers a protective effect and improves neuronal survival.

Chiemeka Chinaka

Chiemeka was born in Nigeria but migrated to Australia in 2015 to study a bachelor of biological science at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) Brisbane. He graduated with distinction from QUT in 2017 and moved to the University of the Sunshine Coast(USC) where he completed an honours year,  with a first-class Honours degree in science in 2018.

Chiemeka went on to work as a Neurotechnician at the Brain Treatment Centre Australia where he supported the use of Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation for the treatment of various neurological conditions. In 2021, he attained a Rotary international scholarship for a PhD candidature at the Queensland Brain Institute situated at the University of Queensland, to study the Health Benefits and Economic Consequences of Deep Brain Stimulation for Parkinson’s Disease patients.

Outside of work, he enjoys singing and playing soccer and chess.

Summary of Project: The chronic nature of Parkinson’s disease (PD) entails a continuous reliance on dopaminergic agents, delivered mostly in the form of medications which can lead to medication-induced complications after prolonged usage. Transition to device-aided therapies such as Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS), significantly improves the motor symptoms of PD which improves the Quality of life of individuals with PD. Improved motor function, reduces reliance on informal caregiving while decreasing caregiver burden. Although DBS provides significant improvements in motor symptoms, the upfront costs involved in the DBS procedure and maintenance of the device limit access to its utilisation and raise questions about its cost-effectiveness.

This project looks at accessing health use data on various Parkinson’s disease interventions to quantify the demand for select interventions among PD patients and leverage these data to forecast demand for these interventions into the future. Furthermore, we study the health outcomes of using Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) to manage the symptoms of PD compared to the use of PD medications only. Finally,  we conduct an economic evaluation (Cost-effectiveness Analysis)of DBS for PD within the Australian health context from a wider societal perspective which draws information on both direct and indirect costs and benefits of DBS for PD. 

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