News

Brain injury patients to benefit from new collaboration on communication


3 August 2009

Associate Professor Leanne Togher and Dr Kirrie Ballard from the University of Sydney are set to join a distinguished team of national and international researchers in the establishment of a new Centre for Clinical Research Excellence (CCRE) focusing on the loss of communication following acquired brain injury.

Announced under a $2.5 million grant from the National Health and Medical Research Council, the Centre will address the translation of research into practice in aphasia rehabilitation. 'Aphasia' is the term used to describe the devastating loss of communication following brain injury, for example, after stroke or head injury from a motor vehicle accident. People with these communication difficulties struggle to find the words to express themselves, and may have difficulties in understanding what others say or what they read, as well as problems in writing.

A/Prof Leanne Togher
A/Prof Leanne Togher

"This is the first time that a research initiative of this magnitude has been undertaken in the field of aphasia rehabilitation. It represents a collaborative effort between a group of researchers who are dedicated to establishing new directions in the assessment and treatment of communication disabilities that occur following brain injury," said A/Prof Togher.

Led by University of Queensland researcher Professor Linda Worall, the Centre will bring together a large team from across the fields of education, communication and speech pathology. Collaborators include Associate Professor Alison Ferguson (University of Newcastle), Dr David Copland and Dr Bronwyn Davidson (UQ), Associate Professor Lyndsey Nickels (Macquarie University), Associate Professor Jacinta Douglas and Dr Miranda Rose (La Trobe University), Dr Elizabeth Armstrong (Edith Cowan University), Professor Lesley Gonzalez-Rothi (University of Florida), and Professor Nina Simmons-Mackie (Southeastern Louisiana University).

Dr Kirrie Ballard
Dr Kirrie Ballard

The Centre will also work with peak bodies representing people with aphasia and clinicians who work in this challenging field of health. "This is an exciting initiative for The University of Sydney to be part of because of the considerable advances that will be made for the people with communication disorders," commented Togher. "A major aim of the Centre is to increase research capacity in this research area, so we are also looking forward to the recruitment of a number of postdoctoral fellows and PhD investigators over the five year period of the grant."

The CCRE in Aphasia Rehabilitation aims to integrate recent advances in research and translate them into a clear pathway for clinical management of people with aphasia. "There is growing evidence that well-designed and focused communication activities result in significant changes in the brain and its ability to recover from injury, and that the capacity to improve continues long after the time of damage", Professor Worrall said. "However, we also know that speech pathology services to people with acquired language impairment are very stretched. For these reasons, it is imperative that the research evidence is applied in order to maximise the opportunities for effective rehabilitation in the everyday provision of services both while the person is in hospital and when they return home."