Dr Zahra Azizi

Insight Health: Unravelling multisensory integration in Parkinson’s Disease patients

Submitted on Wednesday, 29/05/2024

Dr Zahra Azizi, Insight SFI Research Centre for Data Analytics, DCU

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is commonly associated with motor symptoms, yet its impact stretches far beyond mere physical limitations. Patients often contend with a myriad of non-motor symptoms, among which sensory and perceptual impairments play a significant role. Dr. Zahra Azizi, a distinguished researcher with a background in cognitive science, is delving into the intricate realm of sensory processing in individuals with PD, shedding light on how they perceive and interact with the world around them.

Dr. Azizi’s journey into this field began with a robust academic foundation, culminating in a PhD in Cognitive Science – Modelling from the Institute for Cognitive Science Studies in Iran. Her research, which focused on decision-making and perception, paved the way for her post-doctoral endeavors at Trinity College Dublin and subsequently at the Centre for Gerontology and Rehabilitation at University College Cork. Here, she delved into projects exploring multisensory perception in older adults and contributed to studies on PD.

As part of her NeuroInsight postdoctoral fellowship, she aims to investigate how internal and external sensory inputs integrate in individuals with PD and whether people with PD perceive the world differently. Central to Dr. Azizi’s current work is the investigation of how internal and external sensory inputs integrate in individuals with PD. While motor symptoms often take the spotlight, sensory deficits and perceptual impairments are equally impactful, affecting daily functioning, safety, and quality of life. Mobility challenges, heightened risk of accidents, and diminished independence are common consequences, highlighting the urgency of addressing sensory processing in PD.

Utilising experimental methods, Dr. Azizi’s research aims to unravel the complexities of multisensory integration in PD patients. By employing data analytics, including sophisticated physiological measurements such as skin conductivity and heart rate, her team seeks to quantify and visualize sensory processing efficiency. These quantitative metrics provide invaluable insights into the underlying mechanisms of perception in PD.

Dr. Azizi’s work has indeed benefited greatly from the insights and expertise of her supervisory team, comprising Prof. Tomas Ward from the Insight SFI Research Centre for Data Analytics at Dublin City University, Prof. Jochen Prehn from the FutureNeuro Center at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and Dr. Annalisa Setti from the ISS21 Ageing Cluster at University College Cork. Their invaluable feedback and guidance have played a pivotal role at every stage of the project. Collaborating with Insight the SFI Research Centre for Data Analytics, and FutureNeuro the SFI Research Centre for Neurological Diseases, has significantly influenced the trajectory of the PD and sensory processing project. The synergy between these two centres, renowned for their expertise in data analytics, artificial intelligence and neuroscience, has propelled research progress. Insight’s focus on advanced analytics complements FutureNeuro’s proficiency in neurological disorders, offering a unique interdisciplinary perspective. This collaboration has not only enriched the project but also provided access to cutting-edge resources, thereby enhancing its impact.

The implications of Dr. Azizi’s work extend far beyond academia. By elucidating the intricacies of sensory processing in PD, her research lays the groundwork for future interventions and treatments. Multisensory training programs tailored to individuals with PD could enhance sensory integration and mitigate the associated challenges, ultimately improving patient outcomes and quality of life.

In a world where the perception of Parkinson’s disease often revolves around its motor symptoms, Dr. Zahra Azizi’s pioneering research serves as a reminder of the multifaceted nature of the condition. Through her dedication and expertise, she offers hope for a future where individuals with PD can navigate the world with greater ease and confidence.