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A senior research fellow at Solent University, Southampton has been hailed for her role in the development of new, non-pharmacological treatments for Parkinson’s disease that will be explored further within a new specialist clinic, launched in April.

9th May 2023
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Dr Shelley Duncan showcased her work at the launch of the Parkinson’s Centre for Integrated Therapy (PCIT), which will be the UK’s first non-drug integrated therapy clinic for Parkinson’s disease, led by David Wilkinson, Professor of Psychology & Director of Division Human & Social Sciences, University of Kent.

Professor Wilkinson says, “Shelley Duncan has played an instrumental role in helping us understand how non-invasive brain stimulation can improve physical and mental well-being in Parkinson’s disease. Her theoretical and methodological knowledge has, for the first time, enabled real-time recording of the brain’s electrical response during stimulation which gives a live picture of how the therapy works.”

According to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, people with Parkinson’s need access to non-drug therapies to help improve their physical and mental well-being - including neuro-physiotherapy, group exercise, psychotherapy, speech and language therapy, nutritional advice, and occupational therapy. These therapies have been neither consistently nor quickly available, exacerbated by a model of care that does not easily allow different therapies to be personalised and coordinated.

The PCIT will offer an individualised service that promotes self-management, home-based monitoring, the swift identification of new healthcare needs, and liaison with NHS healthcare providers to create a joined-up service that places the person with Parkinson’s disease at its core.

Based at the Kent MS Therapy Centre’s purpose-built neurological facility, the PCIT will also conduct and host cutting-edge research to better understand and treat Parkinson’s disease. Educational programmes will be offered to train the next generation of healthcare practitioners and scientists in this community-based approach to help people with Parkinson’s disease live their best lives possible.

“Together with colleagues at the University of Kent, Shelley’s research is driving new, non-pharmacological ways of helping people with Parkinson’s disease. Her work will bring significant patient benefit and has already made a pioneering contribution to the scientific literature and has helped train undergraduate and postgraduate students in this emerging form of neuro-rehabilitation,” continues Professor Wilkinson.

Shelley Duncan presenting at Mind-Body Connections Conference

Dr Duncan’s area of expertise is within the field of cognitive and behavioural neuroscience, specifically in the use of electroencephalography to evaluate the relationship between electrical activity of the brain and behaviour.

Her key areas of interest are the development of research methods that enable the evaluation of cognitive and physical function within activities that more closely align with activities of daily living. Specifically, within the areas of ageing and neurological disease.

Dr Duncan's PhD - completed at Victoria University, Melbourne, Australia - involved the evaluation of the influence of acute bouts of exercise (aerobic and resistance) on cognitive function, including both behavioural (task completion time) and the brains electrical response (working memory) during the performance of a locomotive dual-task.

Dr Duncan's passion for her field of study grew during the completion of her PhD, specifically developing greater knowledge of the relationship between brain function and behaviour, and how we can improve this in an ageing population and those with a neurological disease.

She explored and developed her interest in the application of her field of study within Parkinson’s after reaching out to Professor Wilkinson about the possibility of working together. Over the past five years, this collaboration has evolved into an exciting body of work, and new collaborations with colleagues in New Zealand and Canada.

Plans going forward will include publishing recent work which evaluated the effect of non-invasive brain stimulation within a population with Parkinson’s disease, and joint funding bids to extend this body of work.

Dr Duncan leads on the Mind-Body Connections Research Group at Solent University, which provides opportunities for staff, undergraduate and postgraduate students as well as the local community to get involved in the broad area of Human Function and Health research and activities.