‘A touching experience: restoring sensation to paralysed people’
Alastair's research looks to decode the brain's electrical patterns, to discover which pattern represents sensations such as vibration, pressure, skin stretching, limb movement etc. If this is understood, then we can understand how to artificially reproduce signal patterns and use them to electrically stimulate the brain. This would mean that a paralysed person could regain sensation. Other possibilities include human sensation via electronic gaming systems, and possibilities for humans to control robotic devices with excellent dexterity to explore extreme environments, such as space, or the deep sea.
Alastair completed his Bachelor of Science (Hons) at the Australian National University. He stayed there to start his PhD, but has since moved to the School of Medical Sciences at the University of New South Wales, where he is now doing his PhD work. Alastair’s PhD project is an investigation of how our sense of touch and body movements are coded in electrical signals in a region of the brain called the brainstem. After spinal cord injury, these signals cannot pass through the injured section of spinal cord, so they can't reach the brain and we can't perceive the sensations. We hope to be able to use our findings to help people recover their sense of touch and movement after a spinal cord injury, by sending electrical signals from the body to the brain, skipping the site of injury in the spinal cord.
Before US-born Alastair moved to Sydney, he had lived in Canberra for most of his life. When he’s not in the lab, he spends his spare time riding and racing bikes.