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  Cortical control of balance in ageing and Parkinson’s disease (PD) using functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) (REF: RDF22/HLS/SER/MORRIS)

   Faculty of Health and Life Sciences

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  Dr Rosie Morris  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Mobility deficits such as balance and gait impairments are cardinal features of Parkinson’s disease (PD). Balance is reliant on cortical control particularly in older adults and PD, where there is increased dependence on cortical control for balance due to underlying motor deficits. To date, little is known about cortical control of balance, but evidence suggests attention and visuo-spatial function are important.

As neural control of balance and gait are distinct, further understanding around the underlying cortical control of balance will inform future rehabilitation programmes. Advances in technology, such as fNIRS, now allows for non-invasive measurement of cortical activity via measurement of oxygenated haemoglobin (HbO2: a proxy for cortical activation) in different regions of the cortex. However, previously fNIRS has been limited to only recording the prefrontal cortex during balance and mobility tasks (i.e., only small fNIRS headbands available), with other cortical areas rarely assessed. Due to the reliance on visual and proprioceptive systems in balance, it is critical that we measure activity across the entire cortex.

This observational study will involve assessment of comprehensive cortical control of balance over the entire cortex in healthy older adults and people with PD. The primary outcome measures will be 1) HbO2 across cortical regions (frontal, parietal, temporal, and occipital) and 2) comprehensive measures of balance during several tasks to challenge cognitive (dual task), visual (eyes open, eyes closed) and proprioceptive (challenging surfaces) systems. This will be measured using a portable fNIRS device where cortical activity will be assessed during balance challenges. It is hypothesised that HbO2 levels will selectively increase in regions of interest dependent on the task and to a greater extent in people with PD. Understanding the cortical control of balance across the cortex will allow for the development of future clinical interventions that target specific brain regions or activation, which will ultimately help to prevent falls and mortality and improve quality of life.

The supervisors, Dr Rosie Morris (Physiotherapist), Dr Samuel Stuart (Physiotherapist), Dr Tamlyn Watermeyer (Psychology) and Professor Ioannis Vogiatzis (Professor Rehabilitation Sciences) are experienced researchers in both ageing and clinical populations and provide a team with expertise in neuroscience, neuropsychology, postural control and fNIRS.

We are looking for a highly motivated and organised team player to join the Physiotherapy Innovation Lab (, @Physio_In_Lab). The candidate should ideally have an interest in clinical populations and be eager to learn new skills. Candidates will be provided with the opportunity for hands-on training and attendance at regular lab meetings alongside mentors, post-doctoral fellows, and PhD students. Applicants interested in this project would ideally have a background in Physiotherapy, Psychology, Cognitive Neuroscience, Human Movement Science, Clinical Exercise Physiology or similar. Experience with previous participant recruitment and data management would be beneficial.

Eligibility and How to Apply:

Please note eligibility requirement:

  • Academic excellence of the proposed student i.e. 2:1 (or equivalent GPA from non-UK universities [preference for 1st class honours]); or a Masters (preference for Merit or above); or APEL evidence of substantial practitioner achievement.
  • Appropriate IELTS score, if required.
  • Applicants cannot apply for this funding if currently engaged in Doctoral study at Northumbria or elsewhere or if they have previously been awarded a PhD.

For further details of how to apply, entry requirements and the application form, see 

Please note: Applications that do not include a research proposal of approximately 1,000 words (not a copy of the advert), or that do not include the advert reference (e.g. RDF22/…) will not be considered.

Deadline for applications: 18 February 2022

Start Date: 1 October 2022

Northumbria University takes pride in, and values, the quality and diversity of our staff and students. We welcome applications from all members of the community.

Informal enquiries to Dr Rosie Morris ([Email Address Removed]).

Biological Sciences (4) Medicine (26) Nursing & Health (27) Psychology (31)

Funding Notes

Each studentship supports a full stipend, paid for three years at RCUK rates (for 2021/22 full-time study this is £15,609 per year) and full tuition fees. UK and international (including EU) candidates may apply.
Studentships are available for applicants who wish to study on a part-time basis over 5 years (0.6 FTE, stipend £9,365 per year and full tuition fees) in combination with work or personal responsibilities.
Please also read the full funding notes which include advice for international and part-time applicants.


Morris R, Martini D, Smulders K, Kelly VE, Zabetian CP, Poston K, Hiller A, Chung KA, Yang L, Hu S, Edwards KL, Cholerton B, Grabowski TJ, Montine TJ, Quinn JF, Horak F. (2019). Cognitive associations with comprehensive gait and static balance measures in Parkinson’s disease. Parkinsonism and Related Disorders. 69, pp. 104-110
Stuart S, Vitorio R, Morris R, Martini DN, Fino PC, Mancini M. (2018). Cortical activity during walking and balance tasks in older adults and in people with Parkinson’s disease: A structured review. Maturitas. 113, pp. 53-72
Morris R, Lord S, Bunce J, Burn D, Rochester L. (2016). Gait and cognition: mapping the global and discrete relationships in ageing and neurodegenerative disease. Neuroscience and Biobehavioural Reviews. 64, pp. 326-345
Menant, J., Maiden, I., Alcock, A., Al-Yahya, E., Cerases, A., Clark, D., de Bruin, E., Fraser, S., Gramigna, V., Hamacher, D., Herold, F., Lim, S., Pelicioni, P., Peters, S., Rosso, A., St George, R., Stuart, S., Vasta, R., Vitorio, R. and Mirelman, A., (2020) ‘Using functional near-infrared spectroscopy in posture and gait research’, Gait & Posture.
Watermeyer, T.J., Hindle, J.V., Lawrence, C., Roberts, J., Martyr, A., Lloyd-Williams, H., Brand, A., Gutting, P., Hoare, Z., Tudor-Edwards, R., Clare, L. (2016). Goal setting for cognitive rehabilitation in Parkinson’s disease dementia and dementia with Lewy bodies. Parkinson’s disease.

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