Dystonia is a movement disorder, which can cause involuntary twisting of the neck, cramping of the hand, tremor or tonic muscle contractions in multiple parts of the body. In the UK, an estimated 70 000 people are affected by dystonia. The causes are still poorly understood and the efficacy of current treatments, ranging from physiotherapy, oral medication, repeated injections of botulinum toxin, to deep brain stimulation surgery, is highly variable. Neurophysiological recordings have demonstrated excessive neural synchronization in dystonia, and are thought to play an important role in causing the symptoms. The aim of this PhD project is to test the causal role of synchronization in more detail and develop novel treatment approaches to suppress excessive synchronization and improve symptoms. The student will use electroencephalography (EEG) recordings and non-invasive somatosensory stimulation protocols in people with dystonia to test if manipulating the synchronization patterns can attenuate involuntary muscle contractions and restore individuated muscle control. They will receive extensive training in experimental design, EEG and movement data analysis, and statistics. Depending on our findings we may also combine vibrotactile stimulation with transcranial alternating current stimulation (tACS) to manipulate sensorimotor integration.
The project is exciting because targeted manipulation of synchronization with non-invasive peripheral stimulation can help us gain fundamental insights into the functional role of synchronization for sensorimotor control and also has immense potential to help us develop treatments to promote rewiring of networks and restore their function.
Student development: The PhD student will be encouraged to participate in subject-relevant conferences and present their work. The student will also be encouraged to enrol in workshops or summer schools to further develop their analytical skills. We will recommend workshops that are relevant to the PhD project, including EEGLAB/fieldtrip workshops, but will also support the broader development of career skills, including writing and presentation skills, planning and running of outreach and patient engagement activities and participating in mentorship schemes.
If you have questions about the project or would like to discuss your application, please contact Dr Petra Fischer [Email Address Removed].