The Rebecca L. Cooper Medical Research Foundation is a registered and self-funded charity which has as its object, the advancing, promoting and encouraging of medical research in Australia.

Huw Jarvis is a first year PhD student at Monash University. He has a Bachelor of Medical Science with first class honours from the University of Tasmania (2012) and a Master of Public Health from the University of Melbourne (2015). His honours project was an investigation of the role of neurofilament in resisting diffuse axonal injury: a type of injury caused by neurons stretching as a result of head trauma. Huw’s interest in public health then led him to a range of health policy roles, including internships at the Grattan Institute in Melbourne and at the World Health Organization headquarters in Geneva. He began his PhD in 2018 after two years working in research translation and clinical guideline development at the National Health and Medical Research Council. His PhD project focuses on how the process of decision making is affected by impairments in memory caused by Parkinson’s Disease, with the aim of informing future treatments for this and other neurodegenerative disorders.

Research

Decision-making involves complex interactions across a network of neural areas, including key dopaminergic areas of the brain. Studies of patients with Parkinson’s disease have been vital in reaching this understanding, as the hallmark of this disease is the degeneration of midbrain dopaminergic neurons. Unsurprisingly, patients with Parkinson’s disease experience problems in learning, memory and decision-making, in addition to their well-described motor symptoms. However, our capacity to develop treatments for these cognitive symptoms will remain limited until we better understand their underlying neural pathology.

This project aims to investigate the neurophysiological underpinnings of memory and decision-making impairments in Parkinson’s disease. It will use a novel decision-making paradigm to discern computational and physiological differences between decisions that involve the integration of evidence from memory and those that do not. Results will be analysed using well-established sequential sampling models of decision making in combination with data from fMRI and EEG in order to explore the role of brain regions implicated in both memory and decision-making (e.g., hippocampus, ventromedial prefrontal cortex, striatum). Healthy participants will be compared to those with Parkinson’s disease to investigate the neurophysiological differences in how dopamine modulates memory and decision-making in both health and disease.

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