James Brawn

Research student, School of Psychology

Research summary

My research concentrates on a neuro-degenerative genetic disorder called Huntington’s Disease. This is a systemic condition that results in abnormalities in motor co-ordination including difficulties swallowing, speaking, involuntary movements and abnormal posture. As the disease progresses there is a deterioration in mental function resulting in deficits in short & long term memory, eventually resulting in dementia. Behavioural changes (depression, disinhibition, altered sexuality, etc.) are also a characteristic symptom of Huntington’s disease. There are currently no treatments available, and the disease is eventually fatal.

I am specifically looking at how eye movements are affected by Huntington’s Disease using an eye tracker. This is important as a better understanding of the relationship between eye movements and the progression of Huntington’s Disease would provide a much needed tool to assess the success of emerging treatment strategies in clinical trials.

Teaching summary

I am a Clinical Teacher for the first year Optometric Dispensing Module

Innovation and Engagement:         

2012 - Demonstrator & guide during a Monmouthshire Science Initiative visit to the Cardiff School of Optometry & Vision Sciences
2014 – Present STEMNET Ambassador

Research interests

Research topics and related papers

Evaluating eye movements as biomarkers for monitoring the progression of Huntingtons Disease to facilitate early intervention and clinical management

Huntington’s Disease is an inherited neurodegenerative disorder resulting in progressive physical, mental, and behavioral difficulties over 20 years. It results from dysfunction and death of nerve cells in the brain and consequential disruption to neural activity. There is currently no cure for Huntington’s Disease and no disease-modifying treatments, although potential treatments are emerging and are starting to move into clinical trials. However, for clinical trials to be really successful in Huntingtons Disease, more objective outcome measures are required.

Individuals with Huntington’s Disease are assessed using the Unified Huntington’s Disease Rating Scale (UHDRS) to determine the severity and progression of the disease. Although eye movements are measured as part of UHDRS, this is limited to rudimentary clinical tests that are subjective, resulting in inter-practitioner variation in score. The aim here is to assess eye movements objectively using a high performance eye tracker to track disease progression. Reliable, objective assessment of eye movements will provide a much-needed tool to assess the success of emerging treatment strategies in clinical trials.

I am interested in establishing whether eye movement tracking could be utilised as an effective clinical assessment tool with regards to neurodegenerative conditions. Huntington’s Disease provides an important opportunity to test this as it is increasingly recognised as a model for neurodegeneration more generally.

Funding

JE Williams Endowment Studentship 2014-17

Research group

Cognitive Science

Research collaborators

Professor Jonathan T. Erichsen (Primary supervisor)
Professor Tom Freeman, PSYCH (Second supervisor)
Dr Matt Dunn (Third supervisor)
Professor Anne Rosser, MEDIC, Cardiff University/University Hospital of Wales