Barbora Fulopova is a PhD candidate in neuroscience at the Wicking Dementia Research and Education Centre. Her field of research is neuroplasticity, which can be described as an intrinsic ability of the nervous system to reorganise itself according to changing environmental demands. Neuroplasticity underpins some of the most fundamental processes such as memory formation, skill acquisition and learning.
“Often in dementia, we see a decline in these adaptive skills and a decline in plasticity. My research aims to extend our understanding of neurological mechanisms of these changes in plasticity, and if these can be alleviated through a non-pharmacological approach of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). Brain stimulation using TMS is an emerging therapeutic approach that has been so far successfully applied in the treatment of various conditions such as depression, migraines and in some cases in Parkinson’s disease. Its popularity mainly stems from non-invasive delivery and few, or no, side effects”.
Neuroplasticity has been Barbora’s passion since her early undergraduate years when she came across the concept during second year of her psychology degree. However her decision to research neuroplasticity within the context of dementia was driven by personal experiences. “As with many people around the world, I too have had a family member affected by dementia. I consider myself very lucky that I now have the opportunity to contribute to the research that is aimed at combating this condition”.
Barbora describes her research below:
"I divide my time between my PhD project and tutoring in the Bachelor of Dementia Care neuroscience units. A major component of my candidature consists of laboratory work, where I look at brain cells, neurons. In particular, I study neural synapses, which are parts of the neurons that are responsible for communication between the neural cells. I use fluorescent proteins and high resolution microscopy techniques to visualise these tiny structures that are about 0.002mm in size. I mostly use mouse models of dementia to do this – and capture images of the healthy cells and cells that live in the presence of Alzheimer’s disease pathology (beta amyloid plaques) at two day intervals for two weeks. Then I apply TMS directly over these cells, and follow on with imaging for a further three weeks. I analyse the images using a customised software package, and look for any changes between these two groups of cells. So far I have found that some of the properties of the synaptic structures seem to be stable regardless of the presence of beta amyloid plaques or any stimulation, while others are highly dynamic."