Dr Alan Brichta from the University of Newcastle has received a massive $1 million boost to continue his groundbreaking research into dizziness - a disorder affecting nearly half of Australia's population over the age of 60.
A Senior/Principal Research Fellowship from The Garnett Passe and Rodney Williams Memorial Foundation will support Dr Brichta's work into how balance signals are generated in the inner ear organs and the way this information is transmitted to the brain.
Dr Brichta said understanding these brain signals was the necessary first step for eventually developing strategies to restore function in patients with balance disorders.
"Despite the very debilitating effects of imbalance, dizziness, and vertigo, particularly in the elderly, it is surprising how little we know about the way the inner ear works both under normal conditions, and when things go horribly wrong.
"Surveys of primary care doctors have shown that dizziness and vertigo are as prevalent as hypertension and angina, and approximately 40 per cent of the population will at some stage experience dizziness severe enough to seek medical attention."
Dr Brichta and his team will study hair cells - the special movement detectors in the inner ear - and how they convert changes in head position into electrical signals that can be understood by the brain. He will also examine how balance signals pass to specialised regions of the brain to provide us with our sense of balance.
Dr Brichta's research is one of the many projects underway at the University's Priority Research Centre for Brain and Mental Health in collaboration with the Hunter Medical Research Institute's Brain and Mental Health Program.
Based in Melbourne, The Garnett Passe and Rodney Williams Memorial Foundation was established by the late Mrs Barbara Williams for the advancement of the speciality of Otorhinolaryngology (ear, nose and throat) and the related medical, surgical and paramedical fields in Australia and other countries.
An HMRI pilot grant, funded by corporate and community donations, enabled Dr Brichta and his team to develop early results, which led to this Fellowship.
HMRI is a partnership between Hunter New England Health, the University of Newcastle and the community.