May. 20, 2015
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BGU's Prof. Opher Donchin (pictured above) from the Department of Biomedical Engineering and the Zlotowski Center for Neuroscience, and Dr. Dagmar Timmann of the University Clinic of Essen in Germany have received a prestigious DFG (German Research Foundation) research grant to study therapies for ataxia and the possibility of using non-invasive stimulation to improve retention of what is learned. 
 
“My partner Dagmar Timmann is a neurologist who specializes in ataxia. Ataxia is the medical term for difficulty generating movement,” explains Donchin, “She is particularly interested in cerebellar ataxia, movement disorders driven by degeneration of the cerebellum. We have worked together since 2005, characterizing how specific patterns of degeneration in the cerebellum are associated with specific movement deficits. We can isolate an area slightly more towards the front of the cerebellum associated with errors that arise because of unexpected forces and another one, a little bit behind it, associated with errors that arise because of a gap between what we feel and what we see. In both cases, the error is almost the same and our response is almost identical. However, the source of the error is different and different parts of the cerebellum are responsible for fixing it.” 
 
They propose to leverage this sort of approach to isolate areas of the cerebellum specifically responsible for the longer term memory of errors.  
 
“This is important because if we want to help people who are ataxic, we have to be able to figure out what part of their brain they are using for long term storage of mistakes and corrections. If that part is damaged, that would potentially lead to a different approach to rehabilitation. If that part is intact, perhaps we can find a way to "supercharge" it during learning and help recovery,” Donchin asserts. 
 
There will be identical setups at BGU and at Essen. At BGU, Donchin and his team will develop the experiments. Timmann and her team have access to the ataxic patients to take the experiments into the clinical setting.