Pioneering psychologist wins vital funding to fight ageing

  • Date

    Thu 24 Aug 23

Dr Alex Sel in her lab

A leading neuroscientist has received £100,000 from prestigious funders to launch vital work fighting the effect of ageing on the brain.

Dr Alex Sel will explore why healthy older people lose independence with a new cutting-edge technique after being backed by The Academy of Medical Sciences.

Dr Sel, from the Department of Psychology, will use non-invasive brain stimulation to boost neural connections and manipulate the ‘roads’ that connect key areas of the brain.

The two-year project will see older adults brought into the lab to see if her new method can help improve lives and alleviate cognitive decline.

Step inside Dr Sel's lab in the video below

Magnetic stimulation

The award follows Dr Sel’s previous work that looked at how just 15 minutes of magnetic stimulation on the brain’s movement centres can increase connectivity between them for up to three hours.

The discovery proved a decades-old theory for the first time by using magnets to confirm different regions are linked.

Dr Sel said: “I’m overjoyed and honoured that I have received this funding to continue my work to explore how ageing affects the brain.

“My hope is that by understanding natural changes in the brain over time we will be able to mitigate age-related decline.

“It is early stages for this research, but my aim is to be able to identify those at risk and develop interventions with non-invasive brain stimulation to alleviate age-related decline.

“This will hopefully help older adults enjoy their golden years and help them live safe, happy and fulfilled lives.”

Response inhibition

The new research will specifically look at what neuroscientists call ‘response inhibition’, which can be changed as the brain ages.

This is where people have trouble stopping or interrupting a course of action that has already been started – such as changing direction whilst walking on a busy road.

Changes in response inhibition are an important reason why otherwise-healthy older people may lose independence.

Scientists believe that weakened connections in older brains cause these changes – but there’s currently a lack of evidence.

Dr Sel hopes to prove this theory and develop new non-invasive techniques to combat decline.

“This prestigious award will help me achieve my ambition of becoming world-leading expert on motor control development in the adult lifespan,” said Dr Sel.

“This is really exciting as it will enable me to conduct my first larger-scale study on the effects of ageing on inhibition.

“I’m hoping the research will provide me with proof-of-concept data that will revolutionise the development of non-invasive brain stimulation for counteracting cognitive decline in the elderly.”