2nd Annual Brain and Technology Symposium:Brain Research New Zealand and MedTech CoRE Combine Forces

By Ella Fischer from Brain Research New Zealand

The second annual Brain and Technology Symposium was held on 11 and 12 April 2018 in the Fale Pasifika at the University of Auckland. It brought together an incredibly diverse group of people and perspectives from all corners of New Zealand and abroad. 68 participants – from early career researchers to distinguished experts – attended the symposium hosted by MedTech CoRE and Brain Research New Zealand (BRNZ) – Rangahau Roro Aotearoa. There were former patients, clinicians, researchers, and engineers; people from different cultures and backgrounds. And they all brought their unique insights, research interests and challenges to tackle.

This diversity was mirrored in our guest speakers and the stories they shared with us. Anne McKenzie, author of “The Brilliance and the Madness”, gave us a very personal account of her journey with traumatic brain injury and reminded us why we do the work we do. Kristin Gozdzikowska from the Laura Fergusson Trust picked up the topic and talked about traumatic brain injury and rehabilitation from a clinician’s perspective, and the current limitations she sees.

Jürgen Götz from the Queensland Brain Institute gave us detailed insights into his Alzheimer’s research and more specifically, the use of ultrasound as a non-invasive and versatile treatment modality for Alzheimer’s Disease. He provided evidence that directed ultrasound reduces the Amyloid B plaques in animals and talked about the translation of these findings to a clinical therapy. It was a very pertinent talk, demonstrating the collaboration between basic neuroscience researchers and engineers/physicists to tackle a significant neurological problem. (Read more about Jürgen’s work here.)

Our final guest speaker, Te Aroha Morehu from Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei, introduced us to the exciting work that Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei is doing to proactively introduce digital technology and platforms to the Māori community and how these are being adopted in the Māori economy. He highlighted the importance and value of working with Māori communities, of learning together and from each other.

How can new technologies enhance research into the ageing brain?

As diverse as this group was, there was one thing they all had in common: the aim to collaborate, to foster relationships and to develop ideas together. And it seems like our two CoREs are made for each other: BRNZ brings the questions and MedTech CoRE brings the technology. Together, we can really make a difference.

The afternoon featured a facilitated workshop – a funding competition aimed to initiate collaboration between BRNZ and MedTech CoRE researchers. The overarching question: How can new technologies enhance research into the ageing brain?

Six clinical challenges were presented and the participants split into working groups to come up with potential solutions. And they were keen to take up the challenge – soon, the room was buzzing with ideas. What made this exercise particularly intriguing was that the participants could work with real problems and potential products that they actually “had the skills to move to market”, as well as “the excitement of working with a new and exciting bunch of collaborators”.

On the second day of the symposium, the working groups presented their proposals. A panel of judges then chose three finalists who will receive funding (jointly sponsored by BRNZ and MedTech CoRE) to continue working on their project.

The winning proposals were:

Into the future – how we continue from here

While not all teams managed to secure funding this time, we hope that they still continue with their projects and reach out to the rest of the CoREs for support. They presented intriguing proposals focusing on an early detection tool for Parkinson’s Disease, integrating rodent behaviour analysis and brain imaging, and in-place stroke rehabilitation with telepresence.

These two short days have shown us how much is possible if we put our heads together and if we see our different backgrounds, interests and expertise as a strength. Combining our forces, we can work on challenges that we would not be able to solve on our own.

After all, he waka eke noa. We’re all in this together.

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The Fale Pasifika where the symposium was held

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Te Aroha Morehu from Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei talks about the work that they are doing to introduce digital technology and platforms to the Māori community.

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One of the teams putting a proposal together

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Members from one of the teams presenting their proposal