The psychological dimensions to social problems and the particular challenges for ageing populations are key issues for societies. This theme is likely to include ageing and dementia, social psychology, health economics and medical humanities.

Available PhD projects

1. Brain health with ageing: understanding the physiological determinants of cerebrovascular regulation and cognitive decline across the lifespan

UQ academic leads

Dr Tom Bailey, Research Fellow, School of Human Movement and Nutrition Sciences, University of Queensland
Professor Jeff Coombes, Professor, School of Human Movement Sciences, University of Queensland

Exeter academic leads

Dr Bert Bond, Lecturer, Sport and Health Sciences, University of Exeter
Dr Alan Barker, Senior Lecturer, Sport and Health Sciences, University of Exeter

Project description

Ageing is the primary risk factor for the deterioration in cognitive function, and is linked to the future development of cerebral and cardiovascular diseases, which exacerbates cognitive decline and the risk of dementia.

Currently, the physiological reason for the alteration in cognitive decline with heathy ageing across the lifespan is unknown, but may be linked to changes in the regulation of cerebral blood flow (CBF) and vascular function. In older adults, it is suggested that the reduction in global cerebral blood flow (delivery) reduces regional cerebral blood flow (perfusion) in the brain. As there is a close relationship between neuronal activity and CBF, termed neurovascular coupling, a disruption in global and/or regional cerebral blood flow may alter cognitive function. However, this is not well understood nor have studies aimed to assess the effect of changes in CBF and vascular function on cognitive function across the compete lifespan, from early childhood through to older adults.

During stress e.g. exercise, a change in CBF alters neurovascular coupling and cognitive function, but the contribution of changes in the regulation of CBF and vascular function to cognitive function across the lifespan is unknown.

We aim to investigate the impact of healthy ageing across the complete lifespan (early childhood through to older age adults) on changes in CBF (global and regional), and its associations to vascular and cognitive function. To do this, the PhD project will utilise novel ultrasound imaging and cognitive testing techniques.

In healthy children through to older adults, the project will:

  1. Describe differences in resting global and regional CBF, and the association with cognitive function.
  2. Assess the dynamic relationship between differences in global and regional CBF regulation to changes in systemic vascular function (brachial and carotid artery function; aortic stiffness), as markers of cardiovascular risk.
  3. Investigate how manipulating changes in CBF and vascular function during acute physiological stress (using exercise), differentially influences cognitive function.

A key goal of this collaborative, integrative research project is to better understand the relationship between global and regional CBF, and systemic vascular function, on cognitive function across the lifespan. This will develop important knowledge on the effect of healthy ageing on changes in brain blood flow and cognitive function, and the relationship to markers of cardiovascular risk (vascular function and structure).

The studentship will include training in novel technical skills for assessing integrative cardiovascular function across the lifespan including transcranial Doppler for cerebral blood flow, Duplex ultrasound for large artery structure and function, Laser Doppler for micro-vessel function, phlebotomy and cardiovascular screening techniques. The groups at UQ and Exeter are part of an International consortium including Universities in Canada, Japan and Western Australia and additional travel to our other partner institutions may be necessary. 

Apply

Submit UQ expression of interest form by 26 May 2018