BrainsCAN Fellows

BrainsCAN is bringing the world’s most promising early career cognitive neuroscientists to Western University through the Postdoctoral Fellowship Program. Training the next generation of researchers is a key aim of BrainsCAN, and its fellows are the engines of innovative research.

In fall 2017, the first set of fellows joined the program under the designation of a BrainsCAN Fellow or Postdoctoral Associate.

Learn about the BrainsCAN Fellows and their research.


Current BrainsCAN Fellows:
Olamide AdebiyiMarta De FeliceSarah Hayes, Chenxi HePriya Kalra, Cassandra LoweAline MirandaJie MeiEmily Nichols, Ana Luísa PinhoNichole Scheerer, Ashley SchormansKasey Van Hedger

Former BrainsCAN Fellows: 
Craig AllenJustine Cléry, Björn Herrmann, Kaitlin LaidlawPan Liu, Liya Ma, Daniel MillerMina NashedAmy ReicheltDavid SchaefferMojtaba SoltanlouStephen Van HedgerEric Wilkey, Jeff Weiler, Yiming Xiao 

Olamide Adebiyi
Olamide Adebiyi
BrainsCAN Fellow
PhD, Veterinary Physiology – University of Ibadan, Ibadan, Nigeria
 

Harnessing optogenetics to treat demyelination and cognitive impairment in multiple sclerosis

Supervisor(s): Dr. Tim Bussey, Dr. Ravi Menon
Research Information:
Multiple sclerosis (MS) leads to devastating impairments in cognitive functions due to loss of myelin and associated disruption of nerve conduction. Presently, existing treatments for MS are ineffective in treating the accompanying cognitive dysfunctions. Thus, effective treatment of this debilitating demyelinating disease represents an urgent unmet need. Recent findings indicate that remyelination can be stimulated by artificially-driven neuronal activity. Particularly promising is optogenetic stimulation (OS); a precise way to manipulate neurons with light by genetic introduction of light-sensitive proteins. Given that cognitive impairments are a major issue in MS, it would be of considerable interest if this strategy could be successfully applied to enhance cognition. Hippocampal glutamatergic neurons (HGNs) are excitatory neurons essential for learning, memory and attention. The disruptions in their numbers and density have been implicated in the pathogenesis of MS.My focus is to target HGNs via OS with the aim of improving cognition and promoting remyelination in MS. Our findings may be used to guide procedures using extant techniques such as MRI-informed deep brain stimulation of regions which could potentially accomplish the same cognitive rescue in a less target specific stimulation approach.
Marta De Felice
Marta De Felice
BrainsCAN Fellow
PhD in Neuroscience - University of Cagliari (Italy)

Investigating the neurodevelopmental aberrations on hippocampal formation induced by adolescent THC exposure

Supervisor(s): Dr. Steve Laviolette, Dr. Walter Rushlow, Dr. Shawn Whitehead

Research Information:
The recent legalization of cannabis for both medicinal and recreational purposes has altered the perception of risks, resulting in a sustained increase of cannabis use mainly among adolescents. This trend is concerning given that sustained consumption of marijuana during such vulnerable neurodevelopmental window has been associated with a wide range of long-lasting cognitive impairments and enhanced risks for neuropsychiatric diseases, such as schizophrenia, anxiety and mood disorders. In addition, emerging evidence has pointed out critical sex-related differences in neuropathological outcomes induced by marijuana consumption. In this study, the impairments in cognitive and affective processing will be investigated in a translational rodent model of adolescent cannabis exposure. Using a multi-level approach, cognitive performances, anxiety and psychiatric-like manifestations will be evaluated, concomitant with a detailed examination of molecular biomarkers and neural activity in selected brain regions relevant for cognition and neuropsychiatric disorders. The findings obtained by the proposed research will enhance our knowledge on the neurobiological mechanisms underlying the side effects of cannabis exposure on the adolescent brains in both genders and will aid in developing novel potential pharmacotherapeutic strategies to reverse the cannabis-related pathology. 

Sarah Hayes
Sarah Hayes
BrainsCAN Fellow
PhD, Neuroscience and AuD, Audiology - University at Buffalo

Neuroinflammatory Regulation of Noise-Induced Auditory and Cognitive Impairment

Supervisor(s): Dr. Brian Allman, Dr. Shawn Whitehead, Dr. Wataru Inoue

Research Information:
Hearing loss is one of the most prevalent chronic health conditions, affecting more than 1.2 billion people worldwide. It is well-recognized that excessive exposure to loud noise, resulting from environmental (e.g., city noise), recreational (e.g., loud music) and occupational (e.g., industry workers) insults, is a leading cause of permanent hearing loss. Beyond the devastating effects of hearing impairment itself, there is clear evidence that loud noise exposure also leads to pathology in brain regions both within and beyond the auditory pathway. For example, noise exposure can cause aberrant auditory perceptions such as tinnitus (i.e., “ringing in the ears”), as well as cognitive impairments in learning and memory tasks that do not depend on the auditory system. While the neural mechanisms contributing to noise-induced tinnitus and cognitive impairment remain elusive, accumulating evidence suggests that neuroinflammation plays an important role in mediating the brain plasticity thought to underlie these disorders. Using a combination of cell-specific in vivo neuroimaging and auditory/cognitive behavioural testing, my research aims to reveal how noise-induced neuroinflammation leads to aberrant neural activity in areas of the brain that control auditory perception, learning, memory and other higher-order cognitive functions. Ultimately, this work will address our crucial need to better understand the adverse effects of noise exposure on brain health.

Chenxi He
Chenxi He
BrainsCAN Fellow
PhD, Philosophy - Beijing Normal University, Beijing, China

The impact of pediatric hearing loss on mathematics and underlying neural reorganizations

Supervisor(s): Dr. Daniel Ansari, Dr. Blake Butler

Research Information:
Sensory loss has significant perceptual, social, and economic impacts. Deaf children often experience challenges in receiving appropriate learning accommodations. Among these difficulties, mathematics learning is an important issue, as school-entry numerical skills are a more important predictor of subsequent academic achievement than early reading and socio-emotional skills. That hearing impairment might exacerbate mathematics difficulties (which are present at a rate comparable to reading difficulty in normally developed children) also warrants considerable concern. However, little is known about how deafness impacts brain processes beyond the domain of low-level perception. Thus, my research seeks to investigate how sensory impairment affects higher-level cognitive functions associated with mathematics, in order to gather evidence potentially informing remediation strategies in this population. My work aims: 1) to determine whether behavioral differences exist between hearing and deaf individuals on mathematical tasks that engage different components of working memory, 2) to characterize differences in the neural correlates of these tasks between groups, and 3) to compare developmental trajectories of behavioral and neural measures between groups by examining both children and adults.

Priya Kalra
Priya Kalra
BrainsCAN Fellow
EdD, Human Development and Education - Harvard Graduate School of Education

The role of the medial temporal lobe in implicit learning: mechanisms and representations

Supervisor(s): Dr. Paul Minda, Dr. Laura Batterink, Dr. Marc Joanisse
Research Information:
Implicit learning—that is, learning without effort or awareness of what has been learned—plays an important role in many domains, including first language acquisition. There is increasing evidence that developing expertise or fluency in these domains involves not only the accumulation of information, but changes in the way that information is represented. For example, experts emphasize relevant features over irrelevant features and often use higher-order representations of the stimuli (such as “chunks”). However, the computational and neural mechanisms of these representational changes are not well understood. I will use a combination of behavioral, computational, and neuroimaging techniques to characterize these shifts. Understanding these changes in representation is critical to designing more effective methods of instruction and training. 
Cassandra Lowe
Cassandra Lowe
BrainsCAN Fellow
PhD, Public Health and Health Systems - University of Waterloo

Determining the neural circuits underlying excessive food intake in adolescents and young adults

Supervisor(s): Dr. J. Bruce Morton, Dr. Lindsay Bodell
Research Information:
The sustained and excessive consumption of calorie-dense foods is the leading cause of preventable chronic disease and premature death worldwide. Limiting the consumption of these foods is therefore essential to maintain optimal health. However, in the modern food-rich environment, maintaining a healthy diet has become a difficult endeavor. The environment is saturated with unhealthy ultra-processed calorie-dense foods (those high in saturated fats and sugar), and these foods are often cheaper than their healthier counterparts. This is coupled with omnipresent cues, in the form of media advertisements, to consume these foods. While some individuals find it really difficult to control calorie-dense food consumption in this environment, others are more adept. My research seeks to understand why some individuals are more prone to overconsumption than others. Specifically, my body of research seeks to understand the neural circuits underlying vulnerability to over consumption, with the particular focus on how the prefrontal cortex regulates reward circuits in the brain to modulate consumptive behaviours across developmental contexts. By delineating these neurobiological processes, we will be able to identify the subtle cognitive and neural markers that increase the propensity to overeat. This would enable researchers and clinicians to identify those individuals that may be more likely to respond to a given intervention and provide the foundational work necessary to develop novel evidence-based interventions.

 

Publications: 
Trends in Cognitive Sciences: Review suggests a reciprocal relationship between obesity and self-control
The LancetAdolescents prone to poor dietary choices, leading to changes in the brain 

Jie Mei
Jie Mei
BrainsCAN Fellow
PhD, Medical Neurosciences - Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin

On neuromodulation-aware deep learning: A multi-level investigation

Supervisor(s): Dr. Yalda Mohsenzadeh, Dr. Julio Martinez-Trujillo

Research Information:
Biological systems such as the human brain learn from and adapt to the environment and optimize behavioral outcomes through strategically selecting from a wide range of options. Experimental and computational neuroscience studies have investigated the biological processes underlying adaptation, learning and reward-driven behavior, and have highlighted the role of neuromodulators. Despite the success of artificial neural networks in many fields of application, the competition and cooperation of multiple neuromodulators and their role in function flexibility and learning beyond the reward-based learning scheme remains largely unexplored in the context of brain-inspired deep learning. In this study, we will integrate neuroscience findings on how neuromodulation affects attention and learning into a mechanistic model devised based on existing deep learning models to understand whether neuromodulation would further improve the performance of deep learning models. We will (1) investigate how multi-level neuromodulation could be employed by deep learning models to enable learning and action selection based on environmental inputs, feedback signals and the state of the neural network, and (2) understand the level of biological plausibility and complexity required to improve performance in behavioral tasks.

Aline Miranda
Aline Miranda
BrainsCAN Fellow
PhD, Neuroscience and Neuroinflammation - Cleveland Clinic, Lerner Research Institute

Targeting the epichaperome to improve cognitive deficits in mouse models of synucleinopathies

Supervisor(s): Dr. Marco Prado, Dr. Vania Prado

Research Information:
Parkinson’s disease (PD) and Lewy body dementia (LBD) are neurodegenerative disorders characterized by accumulation of misfolded α-synuclein aggregates in the central nervous system. With improvements in the management of motor symptoms in recent decades, non-motor features of these synucleinopathies are now a major cause of morbidity, especially cognitive deficits. The molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying PD and LBD-associated cognitive decline remain to be fully revealed. Chaperones and co-chaperones assist protein folding, stability and degradation. Epichaperomes are maladaptive protein networks reflecting abnormal connectivity of chaperones with their interactomes. Multiple chaperones, including Hsp90, Hsp70 and their co-chaperone STIP1, interact with α-synuclein, supporting the notion that abnormal chaperone activity may contribute to the pathogenesis of synucleinopathies. Chaperones also influence the stability and the activation of several proteins related to signal transduction and immunity. For instance, the chaperone Hsp90 prevents the degradation of the NLRP3 inflammasome, a group of cytosolic multiprotein complexes mainly expressed in macrophages/microglia that recognize several stimuli, triggering innate inflammatory processes. Herein, by using transgenic mice expressing the mutant A53T human α-synuclein in neurons as a model of synucleinopathies and high-throughput touchscreen tests we aim to investigate whether epichaperome and NLRP3 inflammasome act synergistically to accelerate PD and LBD-associated cognitive decline.

Emily Nichols
Emily Nichols
BrainsCAN Fellow
PhD, Psychology - Western University

Functional connectivity in fetal growth restriction: association with delivery times and long-term language outcomes

Supervisor(s): Dr. Emma Duerden, Dr. Sandrine de Ribaupierre

Research Information:
Intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR) is a serious condition where the placenta stops growing late in pregnancy, limiting oxygen to the fetal brain. In the early stages of IUGR, blood flow is still being directed to the frontal lobes. Later, however, blood is directed to midbrain areas important for keeping the fetus alive. This redistribution referred to as ‘brain sparing’. Brain sparing can result in severe brain injury, with adverse consequences for cognitive function, including language. For these fetuses, early delivery can prevent death; however premature birth also comes at a cost. The neonatal ICU is a stressful environment, and preterm babies are at risk of both short- and long-term health issues. Objective measures to guide decisions regarding delivery time to maximize developmental outcomes are crucial to neonatal care in this population. My research aims to evaluate whether brain sparing is associated with decreased functional and structural connectivity in the language network in utero, and if connectivity measures are associated with language outcomes at 12- and 24-months. By using MRI-based methods to monitor fetuses at risk for IUGR, and following the developmental trajectory of the newborns, I aim to improve newborn brain health and cognitive outcomes, specifically later language development.

Ana Luisa Pinho
Ana Luísa Pinho
BrainsCAN Fellow
PhD, Biomedical Sciences - University of Coimbra, Coimbra, Portugal and Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden

Novel brain atlasing techniques to reveal cerebellar role in music cognition

Supervisor(s): Dr. Joern Diedrichsen, Dr. Jessica Grahn

Research Information:
Understanding the role of the cerebellum in human cognition asks for the functional mapping of its territories upon performance of a wide array of behavioral tasks. To this end, functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) has been used to measure brain activation related to specific behaviors as means to extensively characterize functional responses in the cerebellar circuitry. The overlap of the neural substrates across tasks can elucidate us about the contribution of the cerebellum to brain processes directly linked to elementary mental functions. Herein, we will adopt this cognitive-atlasing approach to investigate the interplay of the cortico-cerebellar circuits in the domain of music cognition. We will generate a large-scale task-fMRI dataset comprising both the Multi-Domain Task Battery—which covers a broad range of cognitive modules—and a new set of musical tasks dedicated to specifically assessing different music abilities. This resource will allow us to determine the common basis and relationship between music and general cognition as well as obtain a systematic picture of the involvement of cerebellar regions in these neurocognitive mechanisms. Moreover, the dataset will be made publicly available in dedicated neuroimaging repositories, in order to become the groundwork for the development of cognitive brain-atlasing infrastructures targeting the human cerebellum.

Nichole Scheerer
Nichole Scheerer
BrainsCAN Fellow
PhD, Philosophy – Wilfrid Laurier University

The impact of sensory-motor control of speech on social communication and development in children with and without Autism Spectrum Disorders across the lifespan

Supervisor(s): Dr. Ryan Stevenson, Dr. Janis Cardy, Dr. David Purcell
Research Information:
Speech is arguably the most important form of human communication. Since the goal of speech production is the transfer of information, speech production must be carefully regulated to ensure the desired information is conveyed. During speech production sensory feedback, such as auditory feedback, plays an important role in maintaining the fluidity of speech, as it allows speech motor movements to be monitored and production errors to be detected and corrected. A major focus of my research program is investigating how the role of sensory feedback in the control of speech changes throughout development in individuals with and without autism spectrum disorder. I am also interested in how the ability to extract and utilize the information contained in sensory feedback influences the development of higher-order cognitive processes such as speech communication, emotion regulation, and social competence.
Ashley Schormans
Ashley Schormans
BrainsCAN Fellow
PhD, Neurobiology and Neurosciences, Western University

The Neural Basis of Audiovisual Temporal Perception: From Cortical Networks to Cellular Mechanisms

Supervisor(s): Dr. Brian Allman, Dr. Wataru Inoue

Research Information:
To form a coherent perception of the world around us, we are constantly processing and integrating sensory information from multiple modalities. In fact, when auditory and visual stimuli occur within ~100 ms of each other, individuals tend to perceive the stimuli as a single event, even though they occurred at separately. Although this integration of closely-timed audiovisual stimuli can offer certain behavioral advantages, an overly broad window of temporal integration can be problematic (e.g., in autism and schizophrenia), as information from truly separate events may not be perceived correctly. While recent studies in humans have suggested that the binding of audiovisual stimuli is regulated by neural oscillations, the brain circuits and cellular mechanisms that regulate the putative oscillatory activity subserving audiovisual perceptual binding remains unknown. Using our translational behavioural task in combination with optogenetics and in vivo electrophysiology, my research aims to uncover the mechanisms by which inhibitory neurotransmission finely controls audiovisual perception. Ultimately, these studies will significantly advance our understanding of the neuronal circuitry underlying audiovisual temporal perception, and will be the first to establish the role of interneurons in regulating the synchronized neural activity that is thought to contribute to the precise binding of audiovisual stimuli.

Kasey Van Hedger
Kasey Van Hedger
BrainsCAN Fellow
PhD, Psychology - University of Chicago

Examining striatal-mediated cognitive function in patients with substance use and obsessive-compulsive disorders

Supervisor(s): Dr. Penny MacDonald, Dr. Ali Khan, Dr. Adrian Owen
Research Information:
Substance use disorder (SUD) and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) are common psychiatric illnesses categorized by abnormal thoughts (i.e., cravings or obsessions) that motivate habitual behaviors and can cause distress and dysfunction. Prior studies have found that patients with SUD and OCD have abnormalities in brain regions involved in learning and reward processing (e.g., the striatum), specifically those that rely on the neurotransmitter dopamine. Notably, these same regions are heavily affected in Parkinson’s disease (PD), either because of the disease itself or because of the treatment. Our research takes a novel approach to studying SUD and OCD by using techniques that have been developed in studies of PD patients and healthy controls, like structural and functional MRI and pharmacological manipulations of dopamine. The goal of this project is to uncover the neural basis for symptoms that are shared across striatum-involved disorders by using similar methods and comparing results from patients with SUD, OCD, and PD. This approach has the potential to inform more effective treatments.

 

Former BrainsCAN Fellows

Craig Allen
Craig Allen
Stay-At-Home Parent

BrainsCAN Fellow (2019-2020)
Characterization and Treatment of Anxiety Induced Cognitive Impairments with Novel Cannabidiol/Terpene Combinations

Supervisor(s): Dr. Steven Laviolette

PhD, Psychology - University of Guelph
Justine Cléry
Justine Cléry
Assistant Professor
McGill University

BrainsCAN Postdoctoral Associate (2017 - 2021)
BrainsCAN Fellow (2021 - 2022)
Ultra-high field functional mapping of the multisensory integration network in NHPs
Supervisor(s): Dr. Stefan Everling, Dr. Ravi Menon, Dr. Stefan Everling, Dr. Andrew Pruszynski

PhD, Neurosciences and Cognition - Université Claude Bernard Lyon I, France
Bjorn Herrmann
Björn Herrmann
Assistant Professor
Rotman Research Institute (Baycrest)
University of Toronto

BrainsCAN Fellow (2018 - 2020)
Assessment of neural pathway function for hearing
Supervisor(s): Dr. Ingrid Johnsrude, Dr. Brian Allman, Dr. Susanne Schmid, Dr. Edward Bartlett

PhD, Psychology - University of Leipzig, Germany
Kaitlin Laidlaw
Kaitlin Laidlaw
Financial Institution/Industry

BrainsCAN Fellow (2018 - 2019)

Uncovering the neural representations of the intentions that drive action, and the role of intentional action in social settings
Supervisor(s): Jody Culham, Mel Goodale

PhD, Psychology (Cognitive Science) - University of British Columbia
Pan Liu
Pan Liu

Assistant Professor
North Dakota State University

BrainsCAN Fellow (2019 - 2021)
The effect of attention bias training on adolescent internalizing problems: Neurobehavioral predictors and mechanism
Supervisor(s): Dr. Elizabeth Hayden, Dr. Marc Joanisse

PhD, Communication Sciences & Disorders - McGill University
Liya Ma
Liya Ma

Assistant Professor
York University

BrainsCAN Fellow (2017 - 2019)
The Neurobiology of Autobiographical Memory and Emotion Socialization in Autism Spectrum Disorder
Supervisor(s): Dr. Ryan Stevenson, Dr. Elizabeth Hayden

PhD, Neuroscience - University of British Columbia
Daniel Miller
Daniel Miller

Assistant Professor
University of Illinois

BrainsCAN Fellow (2019 - 2021)
Validation and application of structural markers of auditory cortex to study crossmodal plasticity
Supervisor(s): Dr. Blake Butler, Dr. Ali Khan

PhD, Psychology - Vanderbilt University
Mina Nashed
Mina Nashed

Senior Medical Writer
INVIVO Communications

BrainsCAN Fellow (2020 - 2022)
Examining the effects of prenatal THC exposure on prefrontal-hippocampal interactions and long-term cognitive development
Supervisor(s): Dr. Steven Laviolette, Dr. Daniel Hardy, Dr. Walter Rushlow

PhD, Medical Sciences - McMaster University
Amy Reichelt
Amy Reichelt
Senior Lecturer / Emerging Leadership Fellow
University of Adelaide

BrainsCAN Fellow (2019 - 2020)
Defining nutritional influences on neural network structure and function across development
Supervisor(s): Dr. Lisa Saksida, Dr. Ravi Menon


PhD, Behavioural Neuroscience - Cardiff University 
David Schaeffer
David Schaeffer
Assistant Professor
University of Pittsburgh
 

BrainsCAN Fellow (2018 - 2020)
Ultra-high field functional mapping of oculomotor networks in NHPs
Supervisor(s): Dr. Stefan Everling, Dr. Ravi Menon

PhD, Neuroscience - University of Georgia
Mojtaba Soltanlou
Mojtaba Soltanlou

Assistant Professor
University of Surrey

BrainsCAN Fellow (2019 - 2021)
How do we know 'two' but not 'three' means '●●' objects? Neural correlates of symbolic number knowledge in preschoolers
Supervisor(s): Dr. Daniel Ansari, Dr. Marc Joanisse

PhD, Neuroscience – University of Tübingen
Stephen Van Hedger
Stephen Van Hedger
Assistant Professor
Huron University College


BrainsCAN Fellow (2018 - 2020)
Facilitating speech intelligibility through auditory perceptual training
Supervisor(s): Dr. Ingrid Johnsrude, Dr. Laura Batterink

PhD, Cognitive Psychology - University of Chicago
Jeff Weiler
Eric Wilkey
Assistant Professor
Louisiana State University

BrainsCAN Fellow (2019 - 2022)
Executive functions of numerical information in single-subjects at 7-Tesla
Supervisor(s): Dr. Daniel Ansari, Dr. Ravi Menon

PhD, Neuroscience - Vanderbilt University
Jeff Weiler
Jeff Weiler
The Gray Centre for Mobility and Activity
Parkwood Institute

BrainsCAN Fellow (2017 - 2019)
Compensatory cortical plasticity following induced spinal dysfunction
Supervisor(s): Dr. Andrew Pruszynski, Dr. Tamar Makin

PhD, Kinesiology - Western University
Yiming Xiao
Yiming Xiao
Assistant Professor
Concordia University


BrainsCAN Fellow (2017 - 2020)
Investigating the impacts of genetic mutations on disease progression and surgical treatment for Parkinson’s disease
Supervisor(s): Dr. Terry Peters, Dr. Ali Khan

PhD, Biomedical Engineering - McGill University