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Knee-jerk timer a tool for teaching neuroscience
BY SARAH GARVIS
A new timer device designed
to measure the speed of a
person's patellar reflex -- or
knee-jerk reaction -- has
been brought to life by a
team at Flinders Medical
Centre to help educate the
public about the brain and
The patellar reflex timer, which was
dreamt up by Physiology Professor
Simon Brookes and created by
Biomedical Engineering (BME)
Technical Officer Nigel Kelley,
measures a person's reflex times for
the involuntary response of the leg
compared to the conscious response
of the hand.
Prof Brookes said the knee-jerk
reflex was easy to demonstrate
and the device could directly show
people how fast reflexes work.
"Neuroscientists at Flinders are
closely involved in teaching students
and the public about the brain and
nervous system," he said.
"Illustrating how the nervous
system works is tricky, as most
demonstrations require very high-
tech equipment that is difficult to
transport and set up."
To measure the patellar reflex,
doctors tap a small rubber hammer
sharply below the patella (knee-cap
bone), which stretches the tendon
to the quadricep muscles.
This, in turn, stretches the muscle,
which is on the upper surface of
the thigh, and activates a sensory
neurone in it. This then sends
information to the spinal cord,
which activates motor neurones
back to the same quadricep muscle,
making it contract sharply, propelling
the foot forward.
The test can be used clinically to
determine the state of the nervous
system and can detect some
disorders of the nerves or spinal cord.
Mr Kelley, who is part of BME's
Research and Development team,
said a large screen on the device
displayed the patellar reflex response
time and conscious hand response in
thousandths of a second.
"The subject sits with the plastic
bar just in front of their leg, while
holding a push button in their
hand," he said.
"The operator gives a tap to the
person's knee with the little red
rubber hammer and a switch in the
hammer sends a start signal down
the wire to the box on the lower
part of the pole.
"The leg responds to the tap
by jerking forwards and hitting
'Target and treat' approach to rheumatoid arthritis
BY JACQUIE VAN SANTEN
A novel 'target and treat'
approach to rheumatoid
arthritis is set to be tested by
researchers at Repatriation
The research team will investigate
whether treating rheumatoid
arthritis based on the results of a
biopsy of the affected joint lining
is more effective than traditional
therapy. The usual therapy for
rheumatoid arthritis is the use of oral
disease modifying anti-rheumatic
Rheumatoid arthritis is a relatively
common form of inflammatory
arthritis and a potentially disabling
disease. However, research has
shown that remission can be
achieved if the disease is treated
effectively and early enough --
profoundly affecting long-term
outcomes for patients. Remission is
when the patient has no symptoms,
the doctor cannot pick up signs of
inflammatory arthritis and blood
tests for inflammation are normal.
According to co-researcher
Dr Mihir Wechalekar from the
Rheumatology Research Unit at
Repatriation General Hospital, a
significant proportion of patients fail
to have an adequate response to
conventional approaches to therapy.
"Our research aims to treat patients
on the basis of what is driving their
disease, rather than best guess,"
said Dr Wechalekar.
Patients in the study will be placed
in one of two groups -- one group
receiving traditional oral drug
therapy and the other group
receiving therapy on the basis of the
result of analysis of their joint lining.
The latter group will be treated
with injectable drugs designed to
target a particular component of the
Patients will have regular clinical
follow-ups and blood tests. Analysis
of their joint lining will be done
again at six months to judge
response to therapy and to see if
their target has changed. Data will
then be analysed to evaluate which
is the better approach.
"Our approach is novel as it has
never been done before and
has the potential to significantly
change how we currently use
the various available treatments
with maximum efficacy and least
toxicity," Dr Wechalekar said.
The research was funded by a grant
from The Repat Foundation.
the plastic bar, containing a tiny
accelerometer, which sends a signal
down the wire to the box, where
the time delay between the hammer
hitting the leg and the bar being
kicked is registered.
"When the subject feels the hammer
hit their knee, they voluntarily push
the button in their hand, which
also sends a signal to the box and
measures this conscious response,
BME Technical O cer
Nigel Kelley (left) tests out
the patellar reflex timer on
Physiology Professor Simon
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