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.
PhD, Psychology - University of Guelph
Characterization and Treatment of Anxiety Induced Cognitive Impairments with Novel Cannabidiol/Terpene CombinationsSupervisor(s): Steven Laviolette
Anxiety disorders affect millions of Canadians, impairing their mental, physical, and social lives. Existing
pharmacotherapies used to treat anxiety disorders can have serious side-effects, including drug dependence and cognitive impairments. Recent research has suggested that cannabis derived compounds, particularly cannabidiol (CBD), may provide an alternative therapy for anxiety disorders. Using a model of general anxiety, this project aims to identify the neural systems associated with anxiety by employing neural recordings and advanced imaging techniques. Furthermore, we will assess the effectiveness of CBD, and other cannabis-derived substances, to treat anxiety and the associated cognitive impairment. These studies will improve our understanding of the mechanisms of anxiety disorders and the associated cognitive disorders. Additionally, this research will greatly aid in the development of safer and more effective pharmacotherapies.
PhD, Psychology - University of Leipzig, Germany
Assessment of neural pathway function for hearingSupervisor(s): Ingrid Johnsrude, Brian Allman, Susanne Schmid, Edward Bartlett
Hearing loss affects > 40% of people aged 50 or older and increases their risk for additional health problems (e.g., depression, cognitive decline). Diagnosis of hearing impairment relies on measuring sensitivity for at‐threshold sounds, but it fails to capture problems older people experience with suprathreshold sounds. For example, many people perceive sounds at moderate intensities to be unpleasantly loud (‘hypersensitivity’), which may result in individuals being easily distractible and avoiding social situations. This project is a multi‐site collaboration involving three labs at Western University and one lab at Purdue University that will study impaired neural adaptation and its relation to hypersensitivity to sound in rats and humans. Understanding the physiological underpinnings of suprathreshold deficits is the first step to effective diagnosis and treatment.
Journal of Neuroscience: Aging Affects Adaptation to Sound-Level Statistics in Human Auditory Cortex; Media: Study: ‘Sound’ differences between age groups
PhD, Communication Sciences & Disorders - McGill University
The effect of attention bias training on adolescent internalizing problems: Neurobehavioral predictors and mechanismSupervisor(s): Elizabeth Hayden, Marc Joanisse
Adolescence is a critical period with respect to mental health problems, as depressive and anxious symptoms rapidly increase at this time. Subthreshold adolescent symptoms can evolve into clinically significant manifestations of disorder, resulting in personal suffering and placing serious demands on familial, social, and medical resources. Therefore, identifying etiological factors that place youth at risk, particularly ones that are modifiable, is crucial toward prevention. Maladaptive biases in attention play a causal role in risk and also appear amenable to early intervention, although specific attention components and their brain correlates are poorly understood. We will therefore use cutting-edge tools to examine the neural and attentional components that characterize at-risk youth, and will use an attention training paradigm to examine change in these related to prevention. Our findings will directly contribute to knowledge on the etiology of depression and anxiety and contribute to more efficient and cost-effective earlier prevention.
PhD, Behavioural Neuroscience - Cardiff University
Defining nutritional influences on neural network structure and function across developmentSupervisor(s): Lisa Saksida, Ravi Menon
The early life period sees rapid and fundamental maturational changes in the structure and function of the brain. These alterations include cortical reorganization, synaptic pruning and myelination, with varying time courses across development. This project will determine the impact of diet on functional brain network structure essential for cognition. The outcomes of this project will provide the basis for significantly reducing the impact of diet-induced cognitive decline through health recommendations in the clinic and public policy regarding diets.
PhD, Neuroscience - University of Georgia
Ultra-high field functional mapping of oculomotor networks in NHPsSupervisor(s): Stefan Everling, Ravi Menon
Oculomotor tasks have long been used as an index of cognitive control dysfunction in neuropsychiatric conditions (e.g., schizophrenia) in humans. Much of the understanding of this oculomotor circuitry has come from saccadic eye movement tasks – neuropsychiatric diseases, however, are difficult to model. With the advent of transgenic and optogenetic techniques, the use of saccadic tasks in preclinical NHP models of human brain diseases has tremendous potential for detecting the underlying disease-related pathophysiology of these debilitating brain disorders. To that end, this project involves the development of protocols for awake-behaving NHP functional magnetic resonance imaging at ultra-high field – by using saccadic tasks during fMRI acquisition, we can identify functional network topologies in NHPs that are homologous with the human brain. Understanding the functional organization of the NHP oculomotor circuitry will be important as researchers leverage the genetic similarity of NHPs to model human neuropsychiatric diseases.
PhD, Psychology - University of Chicago
Examining striatal-mediated cognitive function in patients with substance use and obsessive-compulsive disordersSupervisor(s): Penny MacDonald, Ali Khan, Adrian Owen
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.
PhD, Cognitive Psychology - University of Chicago
Facilitating speech intelligibility through auditory perceptual trainingSupervisor(s): Ingrid Johnsrude, Laura Batterink
The recognition of speech is fundamental for so many day-to-day activities that we often take this skill for granted, particularly in adverse listening conditions (e.g., maintaining a conversation in a crowded café). Reducing listening effort in these challenging environments is important for improving the quality of life for individuals across ages, and one promising means of achieving this goal is through developing perceptual expertise related to talker identity. Voices of friends or family members are substantially more intelligible than unfamiliar voices and are less susceptible to interference by competing sounds, indicating that they are less cognitively demanding and thus may reduce listening effort. Yet, a systematic understanding of how perceptual familiarity develops and leads to improved speech intelligibility is lacking. Thus, the overarching goal of this project is to determine how we develop familiarity with voices to realize maximal benefits to intelligibility. This goal will be informed by recent advances in our understanding of perceptual learning mechanisms as well as the neurobiology of sleep-dependent memory consolidation.
PhD, Kinesiology - Western University
Compensatory cortical plasticity following induced spinal dysfunctionSupervisor(s): Andrew Pruszynski, Tamar Makin
Reaching movements are critical actions for everyday life that involve processing sensory feedback from muscles, joints, and skin across muliple parts of the cerntal nervious system – initially within spinal pathways that act quickly but have limited processing capabilities, and then within cortical pathways that act slower but can produce very sophisticated motor commands. I am interested in testing whether the cortical pathways that process this type of sensory feedback “understand” the processing capabilities of spinal pathways. In the work supported by my BrainsCAN Fellowship, I will experimentally impair the spinal pathway’s ability to process sensory feedback to support reaching movements and test whether the sensory processing that occurs in cortical pathways compensates for the induced spinal dysfunction. It is my hopes that this work will provide insight into how the different areas of the central nervous system work together to processes the sensory information that is important for controlling movement, and then use these insights for improving rehab programs for various situations, including peripheral nerve injury, spinal cord injury and limb amputation.
Nature Neuroscience: Spinal stretch reflexes support efficient hand control; Media: Spinal cords contribute to complex hand function
BrainsCAN Fellow (top-up)
PhD, Neuroscience - Vanderbilt University
Executive functions of numerical information in single-subjects at 7-TeslaSupervisor(s): Daniel Ansari, Ravi Menon
One quarter of the population has such difficulty learning mathematics that it impairs their ability to use information effectively in adult life. What causes some students to struggle with math? Brain imaging research has begun to shed light on how the brain processes numerical information. However, little is known about how this information is integrated across the brain systems important for math learning, such as memory and attention. With this fellowship, I will conduct a series of studies that provide detailed information about the brain mechanisms that support math skills. First, using ultra-high field 7T magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), I will begin to answer questions about how the brain solves math problems at the individual level. This is an important advance because behavioural research shows that children with math learning difficulties are very different from one another. Second, I will investigate the possibility of subtypes of math learning disability with children who have been identified to need math remediation. To do this, I will identify subgroups of individuals with similar cognitive profiles and compare neural signatures of these cognitive profiles. Research in this area will pave the way to improved pedagogical techniques, diagnosis of learning disabilities, and remediation of deficits.
Former BrainsCAN Fellows