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Brain Neuromodulation​ Research Program

Brain Neuromodulation

Neurological and neuropsychiatric disorders account for 20% of Australia’s burden of disease.

There are more than 1000 disorders of the brain and nervous system. Combined, these conditions result in more hospitalisations than any other disease group, including heart disease and cancer.

Sadly, disease modifying treatments are not available for most of these disorders, with most current treatments only addressing symptoms.  

HMRI’s Brain Neuromodulation Research Program aims to improve the understanding of a number of brain and nerve conditions with the aim of developing new, improved therapies.

Our research focuses on identifying and developing new evidence-based treatments and therapies for disorders of the brain, spinal cord, and peripheral nerves, built from a precise understanding of how these conditions disrupt signalling within the nervous system.

We help people living with neurological and neuropsychiatric brain diseases, bringing together a unique collaboration of field-leading researchers in the following disciplines:

  • Neuroscientists working across all components of the nervous system
  • Clinicians treating relevant patient groups experiencing neuro-psychiatric or neurological conditions
  • Physicists working on advanced materials for use in biomedicine
  • Electrical engineers modelling cell signalling and neural processing

Our program researches the full spectrum of nervous system disorders including the brain and the spinal cord and all peripheral nerves and receptors connecting to the rest of the body.

Research Areas

Our Brain Neuromodulation Research Program aims to improve the understanding of a number of brain and nerve conditions with the aim of developing new, improved neuromodulation therapies that can return nerve activity and brain function to health.

These areas include: 

Pain and Inflammation

Chronic pain is a complex condition associated with persistent pain that lasts longer than the normal time for healing after an injury (more than 3-6 months).

Chronic pain affects 1 in 5 Australians aged over 45 and can be caused by a range of factors such as:

  • Injury
  • Surgery
  • Musculoskeletal conditions
  • Nerve damage
  • Underlying inflammatory conditions such as endometriosis or pelvic inflammatory disease

Prescription opioid pain relief is a common treatment for chronic pain. However, this can lead to serious complications including opioid abuse or dependency.

In some cases, spinal cord stimulator devices are inserted as a drug free alternative treatment option. However, current technologies for spinal cord stimulation can be ineffective in certain patients or lose their efficacy over time.

Our research aims to address this treatment limitation and explore more effective treatments for the many people living their life with chronic pain.

Mood Disorders

Our researchers are investigating how mood disorders (including depression, anxiety, PTSD and OCD) affect the pathways and chemicals in the brain.

Approximately 1 million Australian adults have depression and 1 in 4 people will experience an anxiety disorder at some point during their life.

Mood disorders can interfere with many people’s daily life and cause physical symptoms such as trembling, sweating, rapid heartbeat, nausea and breathing difficulties.

Our researchers are investigating the pathways and chemicals in the brain that are affected by mood disorders with the aim of:

  • Refining existing treatments for depression and anxiety to improve patient outcomes
  • Creating new treatment options for individuals who don’t respond to current therapies 
Addiction: Drug and Alcohol 

Each year in Australia there are over 4,000 deaths in Australia as a result of alcohol and other drugs and the combined economic cost is $23.5 billion.

One in 20 Australians are living with an addiction or substance abuse problem. Although much progress has been made in identifying individual brain regions involved in addiction, there are presently few effective therapies available.

Our researchers are working to better understand the anatomy and chemistry of the parts of the brain involved in addiction to develop new and improved therapies.  

Complex Brain and Psychiatric Disroders: Psychosis and Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is a mental illness that affects 1 in 100 people. It often presents in adolescence or young adulthood and many people affected experience continuing disability.

Schizophrenia often results in a heavy emotional burden and distress for individuals and families. There is currently no cure for this lifelong illness.

Current treatments include medications that are designed to manage symptoms but don’t target the cause. Sadly, these medications only provide partial relief of symptoms and often result in unwanted side effects.

Our research aims to use neuroscience approaches to better understand the mechanisms associated with behavioural dysfunction in complex psychiatric disorders (such as schizophrenia) with the goal that this knowledge may help guide the development of targeted, improved treatment options.

Balance and Hearing Disorders

Balance is a complex sense, comprising multiple components within the brain and nervous system. It is also poorly understood.

Alongside the balance system, the auditory system involves neighbouring regions in the inner ear and brain stem. In Australia, 3.6 million people live with some level of hearing loss.

Deafness and hearing loss can occur as a result of ageing, exposure to loud noises, genetics or due to an untreated medical condition. 

Balance and hearing disorders can be debilitating and have devastating effects on a person’s quality of life. These disorders can lead to:

  • An increased risk of falls and injuries (particularly for aged patients)
  • Social isolation (due to fear of dizziness attacks or hearing difficulties)
  • Decreased ability to learn and communicate (socially and in the workplace)
  • Low confidence or self-esteem which in turn, can lead to depression

Our researchers are working with cutting-edge materials and technologies to improve the therapies currently available for hearing, balance and dizziness disorders including Meniere’s disease and Tinnitus.

Neurogenerative Conditions - Dementia (including Alzheimer's Disease)

Dementia is the broad term used to describe a range of neurodegenerative conditions. It is characterised by a progressive decline in mental function beyond that of general aging.

Dementia is the second leading cause of death in Australians.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for dementia and no ability to reverse the symptoms of dementia.

Our researchers are working to better understand the causes of neurodegeneration, with the aim of identifying interventions that will extend health-span and help people to experience a better quality of life for longer. 


Leadership Team


  • Program Chair: Prof Brett Graham
  • Deputy Chair (Community Engagement): A/Prof Rebecca Lim
  • Deputy Chair (External Engagement) A/Prof Marc Russo
  • Deputy Chair (Research Engagement): A/Prof James Welsh
  • Deputy Chair (Seminars & Symposia): Dr Lizzie Manning
  • Program Manager: Angela Hawke

Brett Graham
Research Program :
  • Brain Neuromodulation​ Research Program
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Dr Katharina V. Wellstein | HMRI
Research Program :
  • Brain Neuromodulation​ Research Program
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Dr Maria Kuznetsova | HMRI
Research Program :
  • Brain Neuromodulation​ Research Program
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Professor Alan Brichta
Research Program :
  • Brain Neuromodulation​ Research Program
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Dr Erin Campbell
Research Program :
  • Brain Neuromodulation​ Research Program
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Professor Stephan Chalup
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  • Brain Neuromodulation​ Research Program
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