28 September 2010

An innovative, Australian-first project conducted at The University of Queensland (UQ) will provide new insights into language disorders.

Dr Greig de Zubicaray, from the School of Psychology, will use an $80,000 UQ Foundation Research Excellence Award to study the mental processes and brain mechanisms underlying why we are able to produce language fluently, and why in the case of aphasia, we cannot.

“While we produce speech fluently in the course of everyday conversation, we understand very little about the mental processes involved in this ability and how they are represented in the brain,” Dr de Zubicaray said.

“The primary aim of the project is to investigate the timing and localisation of brain activity associated with different stages of information processing during speech production.”

This cutting-edge, multimodal research will examine the precise moment-to-moment changes in brain activity during language production.

It combines the use of electroencephalography, or EEG, to provide information about the timing of the different processes contributing to speech production and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to provide information about the brain structures responsible for these processes.

The project is only possible in a small number of labs worldwide and is enabled by new equipment at the School of Psychology acquired as part of a UQ Major Equipment and Infrastructure grant.

“The significance of the research project lies in its capacity to enhance our understanding of the cognitive and brain mechanism responsible for a fundamentally human ability – speech.

“Speech production is usually thought of as involving several different processing stages. However, the precise timing of these stages and the brain structures involved in them need further investigation. To do this, we need to combine information from EEG and MRI studies. This project should be able to tell us more about the when and where of speech,” Dr de Zubicaray said.

Dr de Zubicaray was presented with his award at a special ceremony at Customs House on Wednesday, September 22, as part of UQ’s annual Research Week.

The UQ Foundation Research Excellence Awards have been running for 12 years and are an initiative of UQ to recognise outstanding performance and leadership potential in early career researchers. This year’s awards total $910,000.

Dr de Zubicaray’s research will expand Australia’s capability in the cognitive neuroscience of language and provide new data to inform future clinical research and ultimately the treatment of language disorders.

Dr de Zubicaray is recognised internationally for his work on the brain basis for higher cognitive functions, with particular emphasis on language and on the representation of meaning.

He has also been a pioneer within Australia in the application of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) of cognitive brain function, in health and disease, and is a key player in the development of cognitive neuroscience as an area of emerging research strength at UQ.

In addition to receiving an Australian Research Council Future Fellowship, he has also received funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council, the National Institute of Health (USA) and Pfizer.

Media: Dr Greig de Zubicaray, School of Psychology, Ph 3365 6802 or email greig.dezubicaray@uq.edu.au or Helen Burdon at the Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences (3346 9279).