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Professor Alan Brichta

Professor Alan Brichta
Research Topics:
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2015 Project Grant
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2013 Project Grant
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2008 Project Grant
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2005 Project Grant
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2001 Project Grant

Brief Profile/Biography

Prof Alan Brichta is Head of Anatomy, and his research interests include the structure and function of the peripheral and central balance (vestibular) system.

His recent studies have focused on vestibular hair cells of the inner ear and their complex relationship with closely associated nerve fibres. To study these structures in detail, he and his colleagues have developed several preparations that allow access to the inner ear organs of balance. Unlike previous approaches, these preparations preserve much of the cellular micro-architecture that we now believe is critical for normal function. Results from these studies are helping us understand some of the unique and little understood mechanisms underlying normal and abnormal balance activity in these exquisitely sensitive inner ear motion detectors.

He has published over 70 papers in neuroscience and physiology journals, and he has been consistently funded including grants from National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia (NHMRC), Australian Research Council (ARC), Hunter Medical Research Institute (HMRI), and was awarded a five-year Garnett Passe and Rodney Williams Memorial Foundation Senior/Principal Research Fellowship. He works with collaborators in the USA and UK. He has also served on Grant Review Panels here in Australia and abroad and is a reviewer for several international journals.

He has been an invited speaker at national and international meetings and institutions including, The Ear Institute University College London, The Royal Society of Medicine (London), Barany Society Meeting, Reykjavik (Iceland), Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary (Boston). He is currently Associate Editor for the Journal of Association for Research in Otolaryngology and was the recent Chair of the Association’s International Committee.   

What are your research interests?

  • The balance system 
  • How the inner ear organs of balance generate their signals 
  • How the brain controls the inner ear organs of balance 

Why did you get into research?

I love a puzzle, and one of the most puzzling senses we have is our critically important sense of balance. Despite its pervasive day to day, minute by minute, second by second effect on our lives, we know surprisingly little about this behind-the-scenes, (mostly) flawless performer. My motivation is to understand this quiet achiever and how it works in the background, without us even acknowledging its existence, until it goes catastrophically wrong.  

What is the ultimate goal for your research?

The hearing aid is one of the most common electronic devices that improves our quality of life. And yet a device that helps the other part of the inner ear, namely balance, has only recently become the focus of scientific attention. This is an odd situation since balance issues are as common as hearing problems and there are currently no effective treatments for most forms of dizziness and vertigo. One main reason for this slow start to vestibular aids is the lack of understanding about what the balance organs do and how they do it. Therefore, our long-term goal or dream is to improve on these early prototypes by contributing to our understanding of what information the brain needs to restore our sense of balance after the effects of disease, trauma, or aging.  

Future Focus 

Our future focus is to improve our understanding of the feedback mechanism controlling the signals generated by the balance organs. By improving the regulation of balance signals, we hope to compensate for the ravages of aging, trauma, and disease. We are also collaborating with neurologists and electrical engineers to develop a medical device that helps diagnose balance-related problems which are often difficult to diagnose without very specialised clinical knowledge.  

Specialised / Technical Skills

We use a number of sophisticated techniques in our research and include immunohistochemistry, electrophysiology (including patch-clamp recordings), optogenetics, and mini-microscopes. 


  • Brain neuromodulation research program 
  • NHMRC Review panel 
  • Assistant Editor Journal of Association for Research in Otolaryngology 
  • Con-joint Senior Investigator, Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA) 



Dizzy and Deaf – restoring signals from the inner ear
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Hearing and balance problems arise due to ageing, environmental assaults, medications, disease, and genetic disorders. 



Functional characterisation of schizophrenia-associated neurodevelopment dysfunction of miR-137.
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Dr Murray Cairns, Rohan Walker, Alan Brichta, Natalie Beveridge 


Recovery of the balance system following injury
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Novel spinal cord targets for pain management
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Efferent modulation of hearing and the sense of balance
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