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Next generation vagal nerve stimulation

Vagal nerve stimulation (VNS) is a treatment option for uncontrolled epilepsy (‘refractory epilepsies’) in adults and increasingly children. 

Aims

We hypothesise that vagal afferent nerve stimulation (VANS) will improve outcomes for patients. Thus we have pioneered a way to send signals only up to the brain, not down, via the vagus nerve using optogentics. Optogenetics relies on light rather than current and thus a dedicated VANS device is needed.

Treatment efficacy varies in patients; 30-90% gain improvement in seizure control, 10% seizure free, but most patients need to keep taking medication after the procedure. This variability likely relates to the heterogeneous composition of the vagus nerve.

VNS is also being pursed as a treatment option for other diseases. The FDA has approved VNS as a therapy for treatment resistant depression and as a ‘hunger’ signal blocker in the treatment of obesity. In addition, there are currently 43 open clinical trials for VNS for the treatment of heart failure, Crohns, cognitive decline, Alzheimer´s disease and headache. As all rely on electrical stimulation we predict all will suffer from the same side effect profile and variable outcomes as observed in VNS treatment for epilepsy.

The vagus nerve contains fibers that go up (afferent) to the brain and down (efferent) to the organs. Current VNS utilises electrical activation to send signals both up and down the nerve bundle.

We are looking for a high achieving, intelligent and highly motived student to join our team. The successful student will learn advanced techniques including recoverable surgeries in rats and slice electrophysiology. If you have a genuine interest in neuroscience research and want more information about the project (and honours in general) I would welcome an obligation-free, informal chat.

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