International scholarship to aid UWS brain researcher

Siobhan Schabrun

A University of Western Sydney researcher exploring potential new therapies to help people 'rewire' their brains after damage from injury or disease has received a prestigious Fulbright Scholarship to study at the US National Institutes of Health.

Dr Siobhan Schabrun will spend six months with internationally acclaimed neurophysiologist Professor Leonardo Cohen(opens in a new window). Her research will focus on the phenomenon of neuroplasticity - the ability of brain cells to change their structure and function throughout life.
Dr Schabrun, a National Health and Medical Research Council(opens in a new window) Clinical Fellow in the Western Sydney School of Science and Health will investigate how the safe and painless application of electromagnetic currents to the brain (known as non-invasive brain stimulation) may be used to induce brain plasticity. 
"My research focuses on how non-invasive brain stimulation can be used to improve learning," says Dr Schabrun.
"If learning could be expedited, lengthy rehabilitation times associated with illnesses such as stroke would be shortened, quality of life improved and the social and economic burden of long-term-disability reduced. This has major implications for Australia and the US where lengthy rehabilitation represents billions of dollars in healthcare costs each year."
Dr Schabrun says the Fulbright Scholar Program represents an unrivalled opportunity to learn from, and collaborate with Professor Cohen, a world leader in human learning. 
"This project will allow me to gain experience with new techniques such as magnetoencephalography (MEG), that can be used to study neuroplasticity in humans. The knowledge and skills accumulated during the six-month visit will equip me to develop a world-class research laboratory in Australia that is at the forefront of research in this field in the future," she says.
Dr Schabrun's approach allows her to probe the physiological mechanisms underlying plasticity in the healthy neurological system and in conditions such as stroke, focal dystonia (a condition of involuntary muscle contractions), chronic pain, osteoarthritis and headache.
She then develops and tests novel interventions, including non-invasive brain stimulation therapies such as transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), that can promote brain plasticity with the aim of alleviating symptoms and improving function in these common conditions.

About the Fulbright Scholarship

The international Fulbright Program(opens in a new window) was established in 1946 as an initiative of United States Senator J. William Fulbright, who believed that cultural and educational exchange could play an important role in building a lasting world peace. It currently operates between the US and 155 other nations, and more than 325,000 people have become part of a prestigious worldwide alumni.

The Fulbright Program in Australia is funded by the Australian and American governments and a generous group of sponsors. Each year, exceptional Australians and Americans are selected through a rigorous process to develop new knowledge and skills through a Fulbright scholarship.

Fulbright Postdoctoral Scholarships(opens in a new window) are available to Australian citizens to engage in three to 10 months of postdoctoral research or professional training in the US. The scholarship is aimed at applicants who have recently completed a PhD and provides an opportunity for a talented New South Wales resident to undertake postgraduate or postdoctoral study or research in the United States for three to twelve months. The Scholarship is open to any field of study.