BrainsCAN Postdoctoral Associates receive CIHR Fellowships

July 17, 2019  -  BrainsCAN Communications

Two BrainsCAN Postdoctoral Associates are among the most recent awardees of the esteemed Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Fellowship Program. Cassandra Lowe and Yiming Xiao were both awarded CIHR Fellowships this spring for their research in cognitive neuroscience.

Xiao’s three-year fellowship with supervisors, Terry Peters and Ali Khan will use artificial intelligence to understand the interplay between disease progression, brain connectivity, and deep brain stimulation in treating Parkinson’s disease.

Lowe’s two-year fellowship will examine whether aerobic exercise can improve brain health and cognition in youth with obesity. She will work with supervisor JB Morton.

Yiming Xiao's CIHR Tweet

The Government of Canada’s CIHR Fellowship program aims to equip trainees with skills to become the research leaders of tomorrow. Lowe and Xiao were two of only three CIHR Fellowships awarded to Western University trainees in the 2019 round.

The BrainsCAN Postdoctoral Fellowship Program brings the world’s most promising early-career researchers to Western. As BrainsCAN Postdoctoral Scholars, Lowe and Xiao’s innovative work has already achieved impact. These CIHR Fellows will continue to build on their exceptional research as BrainsCAN Postdoctoral Associates at Western. In addition to their CIHR Fellowship funding, Lowe and Xiao will continue to benefit from access to BrainsCAN facilities, along with additional BrainsCAN Postdoctoral Fellowship funding and research allowances. 

Funding for BrainsCAN is provided by the Government of Canada’s Canada First Research Excellence Fund (CFREF). For more information about the BrainsCAN Postdoctoral Fellowship Program, visit:

Yiming Xiao
Yiming Xiao
CIHR Fellowship
PhD, Biomedical Engineering - McGill University

Incorporating human brain connectome in planning deep brain stimulation to treat Parkinson's disease

Supervisor(s): Dr. Terry Peters, Dr. Ali Khan
Parkinson's disease (PD) is a chronic and progressive neurological disorder that primarily impairs movement, sometimes accompanied by psychiatric symptoms and cognitive impairment. It affects 100,000 Canadians and costs Canada 558 million dollars each year. Complementing medication, deep brain stimulation (DBS) is an effective surgical therapy, where an electrode is implanted in the brain to electrically stimulate the designated nucleus (a cluster of neurons) to relieve motor dysfunctions. However, in current DBS therapy, variations in individual surgical outcomes and certain inherent side effects are still not well understood, and non-motor symptoms are rarely addressed, thus complicating the care and management of the disease. New advancements in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), including diffusion and functional MRI, can be used to extract the map of brain circuitry as a complex network to help reveal the mechanisms of neurological diseases. This proposal employs brain network information obtained from large public databases and from the latest 7T MRI technology at Western University to understand the interplay of disease progression, brain connectivity, and the true influence of DBS. The research will use artificial intelligence to transform these insights into software that offers DBS plans tailored to the patient's personal situations with predicted and enhanced surgical outcomes. Finally, we will explore new stimulation targets that can treat both motor and non-motor symptoms of the disease. With the promise to yield new diagnostic and prognostic biomarkers, this project has the potential to greatly improve the patients' quality of life and to reduce the burden on the healthcare system. Furthermore, the proposed framework is expected to open doors to the DBS treatment of other devastating brain disorders, such as Alzheimer's disease and depression, and help Canada gain a competitive edge in the research and treatment of neurodegenerative diseases.


Cassandra Lowe
Cassandra Lowe
CIHR Fellowship
PhD, Public Health and Health Systems - University of Waterloo

Can aerobic exercise to improve brain health and cognition in youths with obesity?
A randomized intervention assessing the feasibility, tolerability, and efficacy of a 12-week moderate intensity exercise intervention in improving cognitive functioning, dietary self-regulation, and the structure and function of the brain in adolescents with obesity.

Supervisor(s): Dr. J. Bruce Morton
Canada is in the midst of an obesity epidemic that is disproportionally affecting children and youth; one third of children and adolescents are classified as overweight and obese. This is of central concern, as not only is obesity associated with poor physical and mental health, but also brain health and cognitive functioning. Adolescents with obesity show widespread impairments in brain structure and function, which manifest as poor cognitive functioning and heightened impulsivity. Such, impairments can have profound and enduring effects on physical, mental, and psychosocial health into and throughout adulthood. Indeed, poor cognitive control has been linked to a variety of adverse health and interpersonal problems, such as substance abuse and addiction and poor academic performance. It is evident that there is a clear need to develop effective clinical strategies that can be used to mitigate obesity-induced alternations in brain health and cognitive control, particularly during the critical developmental period of adolescence. A growing number of randomized trials have linked aerobic exercise to brain health and cognitive functioning, however, no prior interventions have conducted in adolescent populations. Therefore, the feasibility of an aerobic exercise intervention within this population remains unclear. The primary aims of this study is (1) conduct a comprehensive assessment of the feasibility, tolerability and acceptability of the intervention within this population, and (2) assess the preliminary efficacy of aerobic exercise in improving cognitive functioning and brain health. These findings could have wide-ranging applications, not only in establishing transformative and causal evidence demonstrating that aerobic exercise can significantly reduce the impact of obesity-related cognitive dysfunction, but also in the formulation of strategic public policies and priorities aimed at improving neurocognitive functioning in adolescent populations.