Vestibular dysfunction is often due inner ear problems resulting in dizziness, vertigo, visual disturbances, disorientation, loss of coordination, nausea, and in severe cases, anxiety and/or depression.
Dr. Wellings, a HNE Health and HMRI-affiliated neurologist and researcher, estimates that 1 in 3 visits to his clinic are due to dizziness or vertigo. Approximately 35% of adults aged 40 years or more have some form of vestibular dysfunction. While the symptoms of vestibular dysfunction are debilitating and negatively impact quality of life, secondary injuries that occur due to falls are of an even greater concern to community health.
Statistics show that 50% of people with balance disorders will eventually have a serious fall. Falls can lead to ongoing disabilities, loss of confidence, mobility and independence issues, hospitalisation, and in severe cases death.
Current treatments for vestibular dysfunction are limited and often ineffective, as they mask symptoms such as nausea and vomiting, rather than targeting the primary cause. To provide better therapies for vestibular dysfunction, more research investigating the function of the inner ear is essential.
During my PhD I have aimed to better describe the efferent vestibular system, which is a network of neurons that travel from the brain to the inner ear and serve to modulate activity. I have focussed on characterising novel receptors in sensory hair cells of this system - such as the alpha9 nicotinic receptor. This receptor may be pharmacologically targeted and may contribute to the design of new drugs and other therapies to treat dizziness, vertigo, motion sickness, and imbalance.