Unlocking the brain’s secrets
A simple language test could help medical professionals establish the impact of brain tumours more accurately than has been possible in the past.
Victorious Spring 2014
Called the BLAST (Brief Language Assessment for Surgical Tumours), the test has been developed by PhD student Josh Faulkner and his supervisor, Dr Carolyn Wilshire, at Victoria’s School of Psychology.
The BLAST is the first assessment to analyse language skills in brain tumour patients. A patient is tested before and after surgery, to determine the effect of a tumour on language and whether surgery has altered language function.
For the past three years, Josh has been working with 40 brain tumour patients at Wellington Hospital.
“It’s a short bedside assessment, and is quite straightforward—we ask them to name objects, colours or actions, or to repeat words spoken to them.”
Josh says the BLAST can help identify patients who may require targeted speech and language therapy.
“We hope to gain new scientific insights too—by looking at which parts of the brain are affected by the tumour in each patient, we can explore the role each part of our brain plays in the way we communicate through speech.”
Carolyn says the BLAST is helping build a better picture of how the brain works.
“We used to think there were one or two key language hubs in your brain, but the BLAST has shown that a huge portion of your left hemisphere is crucial for language.”
The research has received seed funding from the Neurological Foundation of New Zealand, and Josh recently presented his work at the International Neuropsychology conference in Amsterdam.
The pair is grateful for the involvement of Wellington Hospital in the project.
“The lead neurosurgeon, Andrew Parker, has been phenomenal, and the patients are so open and willing in what are often difficult personal circumstances,” says Josh.