BrainsCAN's Postdoctoral Associates

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

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

Learn about the Postdoctoral Associates and their research.


BrainsCAN's Postdoctoral Associates:
Justine Cléry, Cassandra Lowe, Sasha Reschechtko, Joana Vieira, Jeffery Weiler, Yiming Xiao

Justine Clery
Justine Cléry
BrainsCAN Postdoctoral Associate
PhD, Neurosciences and Cognition - Université Claude Bernard Lyon I, France

Identification of the effective connectivity changes in cortical and subcortical networks during pro- and antisaccades using combination of fMRI and optogenetics/electrical microstimulation in NHPs

Research Information:
Humans and NHPs have an exceptional ability to voluntarily control their actions. This control is crucial in a swiftly changing environment when automatic or previously learned responses can no longer achieve a goal, for example when subjects must inhibit a habitual response, ignore distracting stimuli, shift between tasks, or choose between competing alternative actions. To successfully switch from one task to another, task relevant information must be selected and maintained over task-irrelevant information. Functional neuroimaging studies have found a network of frontoparietal brain areas that activates more strongly on trials where the task is switched then repeated, including the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, frontal eye fields (FEF), anterior cingulate cortex, and posterior parietal cortex and also supported by task selective activity from single unit recordings in NHPs. The main objective of the present research proposal is to identify effective connectivity changes in cortical and subcortical networks during pro- and anti-saccades using a combination of fMRI and optogenetic/electrical microstimulation in NHPs. In addition, we will examine how large-scale functional and effective connectivity changes while the NHPs learn the task.
Cassandra Lowe
Cassandra Lowe
BrainsCAN Postdoctoral Associate
PhD, Public Health and Health Systems - University of Waterloo

Assessment of the neural mechanisms underlying self-regulation, and the factors that influence the development of these mechanisms

Research Information:
A fundamental understanding of neurocognitive factors that increase susceptibility to ill-health is of the utmost importance from both a research and broader social and public health perspective. In particular, there is need for a specific focus on the developmental neural trajectories that influence development of self-regulatory abilities, such as the capacity to control impulses or delay gratification to immediate rewards particularly in the presence of appetitive cues or stimuli, and otherwise acting in a goal directed manner is critical for the maintenance of both physical and mental health; such self-regulatory abilities are thought to be a form of cognitive control or executive functioning. However, in order to fully elucidate the factors that influence the development of self-regulation, a better understanding of the cognitive control networks and mechanisms driving successful self-regulation is necessary. To date, only a handful of studies have sought to examine the causal relationship between prefrontal functionality and reward based decision making, and thus, several critical questions still remain to be addressed. Most importantly, can suboptimal prefrontal cortical functionality be regarded as a risk factor for impulsive and reward driven decision making?
Sasha
Sasha Reschechtko
BrainsCAN Postdoctoral Associate
PhD, Kinesiology - Pennsylvania State University

Central determinants of recovery from peripheral nerve injury

Research Information:
Peripheral nerve injury (PNI) in the upper limb often degrades hand function and quality of life. Peripheral nerves – including the median and ulnar nerves that innervate the hand – are capable of regrowth, but patients show a wide range of outcomes after regrowth is complete and many are left with markedly reduced hand function. Critically, the neural basis of successful recovery is unknown. Here, we propose a novel set of behavioral tasks and modern neuroimaging assays to directly test how cortical reorganization influences functional hand recovery after peripheral nerve injury in humans. Our work will provide new insights into the basic neural representation of the hand and may improve clinical practice by motivating interventions that target the precise neural determinants of successful recovery.
Joana Vieira
Joana Vieira
BrainsCAN Postdoctoral Associate (Top-Up)
PhD, Neuroscience - University of Porto, Portugal

 

Research Information:
My CIHR proposal aims to characterise the neural circuitry implicated in responding to self vs. other-directed threats and, importantly, identify activation patterns that predict decisions to help others (vs. escape) in threating situations. Humans often take significant risks to help others, but the neurocognitive mechanism involved in making decision under threat are poorly understood. This project will provide a detailed description of the neural architecture implicated in responding to threat proximity and fear in others. This will increase our understanding of the factors behind interpersonal behaviour under threat, ranging from acts of heroism, to detached or avoidance behaviour. This project is in close alignment with the strategic priorities of BrainsCAN. It involves the combination of brain imaging with novel and ecologically valid behavioural paradigms, to examine basic defensive processes and the influence on interpersonal behavioural. Improving our understanding of these processes will contribute to enhance our knowledge about the pathophysiology and potential treatment of disorders associated with abnormal threat responses (e.g. anxiety disorders, psychopathy). Knowledge of the neurological roots of helping behavioural is also vital to develop and test the efficacy of interventions designed to promote empathy and prosocial behaviour in aggressive disorders (e.g. Antisocial Personality Disorders, Conduct disorder). This approach thus emphasizes the investigation of cognition processes that cut across diagnostic categories, as well as of their underlying neural bases.
Jeffery Weiler
Jeffery Weiler
BrainsCAN Postdoctoral Associate (Top-Up)
PhD, Kinesiology - Western University

 

Research Information:
My fellowship has been devoted to understanding how sensory information is processed by the central nervous system in a way that supports the execution of purposeful movement. I approach this work by using robotic technology to rapidly flex or extend an upper-limb joint, and assess how an individual’s volitional movement intent modulates reflex responses that are evoked in the muscles that were stretched. Using this experimental paradigm and carefully analyzing evoked reflex responses allows me to make strong inferences regarding how different neural circuits process incoming somatosensory feedback, and whether this processing is dependent on the intent to execute different actions. A long-held belief in the field of sensorimotor neuroscience is that task-, or goal-dependent processing of somatosensory feedback is restricted to cortical regions that are involved in the production of voluntary movement (e.g., primary motor cortex). Importantly, my most recent work has shown that spinal circuits also possess this capability. This is a transformational result; it directly counters the notion that supraspinal circuits are exclusively responsible for processing somatosensory feedback to support goal-directed actions.
Yiming Xiao
Yiming Xiao
BrainsCAN Postdoctoral Associate
PhD, Biomedical Engineering - McGill University

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

Research Information:
As the second most frequent neuro-degenerative disorder worldwide, Parkinson's disease (PD) is primarily characterized by motor symptoms, but can also be accompanied by psychiatric symptoms, sleep disturbance, and cognitive impairment. Besides pharmaceutical therapy, deep brain stimulation (DBS) is an effective surgical treatment, where an electrode is implanted in the brain to re-normalize the motor neuro-circuitry. With the stimulation targets of the Globus Pallidus interna (GPi) and the subthalamic nucleus (STN), the success of the procedure depends on the accurate placement of the electrode while avoiding adjacent nuclei that can cause adverse effects. By integrating brain connectivity information, data-driven surgical planning can help improve the surgical planning of deep brain stimulation therapy to treat Parkinson’s disease.