Exciting new research from Griffith University is providing new hope for those with acquired brain injuries.

International trailblazer in stem cell rehabilitation and Griffith University Professor Emeritus Alan Mackay-Sim will explore the exciting opportunities being opened up by new research in neuroplasticity – at the National Brain Injury Conference at the Princess Alexandra Hospital on November 13 & 14.

“It’s very difficult to treat because the brain is such a complex organ it’s millions of cells connected to thousands of cells each of them,” Professor Mackay-Sim said.

“It gets damaged and then you have this inflammation reaction which causes more damage as the active brain cells change. The question is can you get the brain to work around that problem and recover function?

Professor Alan Mackay-Sim

Professor Emeritus Alan Mackay-Sim

“So it’s not simply learning in circuits that are already there, but it’s getting other circuits involved, getting other circuits to change their functions to work around the problem.”

The 2017 Australian of the Year is one of a cohort of Griffith researchers taking part in the National Brain Injury Conference.

Griffith Business School students led by Dr Barry Fraser are assisting the conference via the school’s Work Integrated Learning program and GBS staff are also lending their expertise to ensure the conference is a success.

Professor Heidi Zeeman is also bringing her expertise in rehabilitation from the Menzies Health Institute and Hopkins Centre to the discussion on neuroplasticity.

She says the design of our buildings and spaces have an enormous and often underestimated impact on people’s recovery from catastrophic injuries.

“Urban design is at risk of becoming homogeneous and distracting, disengaging, at a time when there’s increasing need for our cities to be more inclusive,” Professor Zeeman said.

“We know that architecture can be cognitively supportive of cognitively stressful.

“The first area of focus really is the rehabilitation ward itself.

“A lot of what we think doesn’t matter actually does, the quality of sleep people have in these places, and it’s variable for people in there there’s lots of beeping in there at night.

“We have to focus on how much our environment can focus on those feelings of wellbeing.

Heidi Muenchberger - Griffith Health Institute

Professor Heidi Zeeman

“Accessibility does not make inclusion. Accessibility is almost a work health and safety promise it’s also very focused on physical disability ramps and such but alongside that is cognitive disability. There can be a lot more done. And also with spatial design, disorientation, problems with way finding they’re all issues that people with brain trauma experience.”

Conference organiser Nick Rushworth knows all too well the impact that one moment in time can have on the rest of your life.

He sustained a severe traumatic brain injury after a bike accident in 1996.

He’s been the Executive Officer of Brain Injury Australia since 2008.

Mr Rushworth said this conference is a crucial forum for people to hear the latest research into the treatment of brain injury.

“For a lot of brain injury Australia’s constituents their injury is the watershed event of their life that divides their life in two.”

“For that reason a lot of people find it difficult to engage with not only the service system but also the wider world it’s referred to as the invisible disability.”