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PhD Studentship (3 years) Closed loop stimulation of cortical oscillations and effect on movement

College of Health & Life Sciences - Studentships

Location:  Aston University Main Campus
Basis:  Full Time
Closing Date:  Open Until Filled
Reference:  R210536
Release Date:  Wednesday 01 December 2021

Supervisor: Dr Boubker Zaaimi 

Key words: Movement, cortex, oscillations, MEG, Closed-loop, stimulation, coherence

Project Reference: Zaaimi_Closed_Loop

Applications are invited for a three-year Postgraduate studentship, supported by the College of Health and Life Sciences, to be undertaken within Dr Zaaimi Research Group at Aston University.  The successful applicant will join an established experimental group working on motor control.  The studentship is offered in collaboration with Prof Stuart Baker from Newcastle University and Prof Gavin Woodhall from Aston University.

The position is available to start in April 2022.

Financial Support

This studentship includes a fee bursary to cover the home/EU fees rate, plus a maintenance allowance of £15,609 in 2021/2 (subject to eligibility). This application is only available to Home students.

Background to the Project

Field potential recordings from motor cortex show oscillatory activity. The exact frequency varies between individuals, but power-spectral peaks in both the ‘alpha’ and ‘beta’ bands (around 10 Hz, and 15–30 Hz) are commonly seen. The cortical activity around 20 Hz is coherent with similar oscillations in the electromyogram (EMG) of contralateral contracting muscles; by contrast, corticomuscular coherence is usually absent for the 10 Hz band. Oscillations and corticomuscular coherence are abolished during movement and appear most strongly during rest or periods of steady contraction following a movement. Cortical oscillations are altered in many diseases affecting motor system and the corticospinal tract (motoneuron diseases, Parkinson’s essential tremor, stroke, spinal cord injury). Although beta-band oscillations in motor cortex have been the subject of much experimental investigation, at present we still lack mechanistic functional models. 

Our hypothesis is that beta-band oscillations may have a role in sensorimotor integration, somehow recalibrating the system following a movement and thus preparing for the next movement. The challenge now is to make some of these ideas more concrete. 

How could ascending oscillations be processed by central pathways to yield a representation useful in subsequent motor control? 

We have recently demonstrated closed-loop manipulation of network dynamics in rodents and in non-human primates (paper in press in Nature biomedical engineering). With magnetoencephalography (MEG) at Aston we can modulate the cortical oscillations by providing closed-loop stimulations to the sensory input in humans. The experiments in humans will be accompanied by in vitro and in vivo experiments in rodents to investigate the role of the beta oscillations in sensorimotor integration and optimise the parameters of the closed loop stimulation. 

Person Specification

The successful applicant should have been awarded, or expect to achieve, a First BSc degree. The project requires a wide range of skills, from electrophysiology in both animals and humans, to advanced mathematical data analysis and computer programming. It is unlikely that any candidate will have all the required skills; much more important is a willingness to learn an inter-disciplinary skillset. For this reason, we encourage applications from a computer science, engineering, or mathematics background, just as much as from neuroscience or biology.

Contact information

For formal enquiries about this project contact Dr Boubker Zaaimi: b.zaaimi@aston.ac.uk

Submitting an application

As part of the application, you will need to supply:

  • A copy of your current CV
  • Copies of your academic qualifications for your Bachelor degree, and Masters degree (if studied); this should include both certificates and transcripts, and must be translated in to English.
  • A research proposal statement*
  • Two academic references
  • Proof of your English Language proficiency

Details of how to submit your application, and the necessary supporting documents can be found here.  

Please select “Research Health Sciences” from the application form options.

*The application must be accompanied by a “research proposal” statement. An original proposal is not required as the initial scope of the project has been defined, candidates should take this opportunity to detail how their knowledge and experience will benefit the project and should also be accompanied by a brief review of relevant research literature.

Please include the supervisor name, project title and project reference in your Personal Statement.

If you require further information about the application process please contact the Postgraduate Admissions team at pgr_admisssions@aston.ac.uk 

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Aston University is an equal opportunities employer and welcomes applications from all sections of the community.  It promotes equality and diversity in all aspects of its work. We are committed to the principles of the Athena SWAN Charter http://www.ecu.ac.uk/equality-charter-marks/athena-swan/, recognised by a silver award, and we are a Disability Confident Employer Level 2. We strive to have robust inclusivity strategies in place, including race and sexual orientation, to encourage colleagues to have the confidence and freedom to be themselves in the workplace. For more information, visit: https://www2.aston.ac.uk/about/inclusive-aston

As users of the disability confident scheme, we guarantee to interview all disabled applicants who meet the minimum criteria for the vacancy.

If you require the job details document or an application form in an alternative format please contact the recruitment team at recruitment@aston.ac.uk.


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