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Dr Madeleine Lowery

Dr Madeleine Lowery, Senior Lecturer, UCD School of School of Electrical, Electronic and Communications Engineering 

Modelling movement control for better therapies

In a movement disorder, such as Parkinson’s disease, the usual signals between the brain and muscles become disrupted. In turn that can lead to symptoms such as involuntary tremors, rigidity in the muscle and difficulty initiating movements. To better understand these relationships, Dr Madeleine Lowery is looking at how the brain controls muscle movement. Her research stands to inform better treatments for movement disorders and the use of artificial limbs.

Deep brain stimulation (DBS), where electrodes are implanted into a patient’s brain, forms an important focus of her work. The implanted electrodes can reduce tremors and other characteristic symptoms of Parkinson’s disease by artificially stimulating the basal ganglia, which is involved in muscle co-ordination. But many questions remain about how it works.

Dr Lowery, who is a member of the IEEE and the Council of the International Society of Electrophysiology and Kinesiology, is developing computer models of DBS based on experimental data to analyse how the approach interrupts oscillations in Parkinson’s disease that are linked with disrupted motor function. 

The mathematical modelling approach allows her to experiment and explore innovations in DBS in silico. In this way she is looking to model ‘smarter’ DBS systems that can react and adapt to the patient’s response. The work is funded through Science Foundation Ireland.

Dr Lowery also uses mathematical modelling in parallel with experiments to understand more about how muscles fatigue and how the nervous system and muscles interact. Building on her previous work at the at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago and the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Northwestern University she maintains a strong interest in modelling more effective interfaces between muscles and electrical controls in artificial limbs and the next generation of rehabilitation therapies.