Detect cognitive decline in Parkinson's

Detecting the earliest stages of cognitive decline in Parkinson's disease

Degree type

PhD

Closing date

6 March 2023

Campus

Hobart

Citizenship requirement

Domestic/International

About the research project

Parkinson's disease (PD) is the fastest growing neurological disorder in the world, with age-standardized prevalence rates increasing by 22% in the last 20 years. Although PD was traditionally considered a pure movement disorder characterised by tremor and slowed walking, it is now recognised that PD has prominent non-movement features too. Specifically, by 15 years post-diagnosis, about 80% of people with PD (pwPD) have developed cognitive decline and 40% have dementia. PD cognitive decline substantially increases the risk of PD dementia but there are no precise low-cost methods to detect early cognitive decline; clinicians rely on insensitive pen-and-paper tests. There is an urgent need to address this gap, to facilitate early recruitment to clinical trials, especially as new evidence shows that lifestyle risk modification reduces PD dementia risk.

In this project, a multidisciplinary team (neurologist and neuroscientist) with strong collaborative links to computer scientists, will supervise the candidate to undertake a cross-sectional study comparing movement and cognition in pwPD (with and without cognitive decline) to age-matched controls from the ISLAND Project (the largest dementia prevention study in the world).  The candidate will work with established community PD groups to develop: (i) a database of pwPD in Tasmania; (ii) new computer technologies to precisely measure movement/cognitive features and (iii) a new phone app that records fluctuations in symptoms. We will develop new computer algorithms to identify the earliest stages of PD cognitive impairment by investigating which data patterns most strongly associate with cognitive impairment.  The outcome will be a new phone app that can be used remotely, at home and clinically, to detect clinical changes indicative of cognitive impairment. This builds upon the NHMRC-funded TAS Test project where >2,000 older adults have provided online movement and cognitive data, and harnesses strong links with the ISLAND Project, ISLAND Cognitive clinic, Parkinson's community groups and the Royal Hobart Hospital.

Primary Supervisor

Meet Associate Professor Jane Alty

Funding

Applicants will be considered for a Research Training Program (RTP) scholarship or Tasmania Graduate Research Scholarship (TGRS) which, if successful, provides:

  • a living allowance stipend of $28,854 per annum (2022 rate, indexed annually) for 3.5 years
  • a relocation allowance of up to $2,000
  • a tuition fees offset covering the cost of tuition fees for up to four years (domestic applicants only)

If successful, international applicants will receive a University of Tasmania Fees Offset for up to four years.

As part of the application process you may indicate if you do not wish to be considered for scholarship funding.

Eligibility

Applicants should review the Higher Degree by Research minimum entry requirements.

Additional eligibility criteria specific to this project/scholarship:

  • Applicants must be able to undertake the project on-campus.

Selection Criteria

The project is competitively assessed and awarded.  Selection is based on academic merit and suitability to the project as determined by the College.

Additional desirable selection criteria specific to this project:

  • Good communication skills and experience of working with people, including older adults.

Application process

There is a three-step application process:

  1. Select your project, and check you meet the eligibility and selection criteria;
  2. Contact the Primary Supervisor, Associate Professor Jane Alty to discuss your suitability and the project's requirements; and
  3. Submit an application by the closing date listed above.
    • Copy and paste the title of the project from this advertisement into your application. If you don’t correctly do this your application may be rejected.
    • As part of your application, you will be required to submit a covering letter, a CV including 2 x referees and your project research proposal.

Following the application closing date applications will be assessed within the College. Applicants should expect to receive notification of the outcome by email by the advertised outcome date.

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