Q&A with Leanne Young

Friday, May 27, 2016

Leanne Young, M.A., a former engineer in the private sector, is currently pursuing a doctorate in cognitive neuroscience at UT Dallas. As a research assistant at the Center for BrainHealth in lab of Dan Krawczyk, Ph.D., she investigates traumatic brain injury and virtual reality interventions and is a leader on a Department of Defense funded social cognition study.

What led you to pursue a Ph.D. in cognitive neuroscience?
During my last 20 years as an engineer, I researched the biomechanics of explosions on people and their important effects on the brain. As I was working with cognitive neuroscientists, neurologists, and psychologists, I became increasingly interested in the brain and increasingly frustrated with the qualitative nature of some of the tests. This motivated me to get my Doctorate in cognitive neuroscience so I could better understand the field and perhaps contribute to making it more quantitative.

Why did you join the Center for BrainHealth?
I initially came to the Center for BrainHealth seeking potential opportunities for collaboration between my engineering firm and the Center. During my visit, I was very impressed with the work that Dr. Dan Krawczyk and others at the Center were doing. The more I talked to individuals at the Center, the more I realized that it was the time for me to start my second career. About a year later, I decided to take a sabbatical from my job and to get my Doctorate.

What are you currently working on at the Center for BrainHealth?
I am currently doing research on two different paths. First, I am working with others in the Krawczyk lab to use Virtual Reality to characterize the nature of an individual’s impairment from traumatic brain injury. Traditional neuropsychological tests for evaluating impairment have lacked the sensitivity needed to capture the real life impact of brain injury. However, using a Virtual Reality approach, we hope to develop tools that both simulate real life and yield quantitative data. Secondly, I am working with others in the Krawczyk and O’Toole labs on a social neuroscience project investigating the parts of the brain that contribute to social interactions, such as observing emotions, evaluating trustworthiness and detecting deception. My research uses the fMRI and advanced mathematical techniques to understand what occurs in the brain during an evaluation of whether someone is lying or telling the truth. While this is just one component of a social interaction, the tip of the iceberg maybe, it could lead us down a road to increasing our understanding of how the “social brain” functions.With a better understanding of the social brain, we can seek new interventions for people suffering from conditions such as Autism that impair social cognition.

What are some of the interesting questions you’ve answered since you’ve been here?
My first project focused on the amygdala, the part of the brain that lights up when there is emotional salience. We were investigating whether it is a good marker for selective attention in traumatic brain injury patients. In the scanner, individuals with TBI looked at faces, places, and objects, and were instructed to selectively attend to one and block out the others. While there are other brain regions used for attending to places or attending to faces, we found that the amygdala is actually a more specific marker for selective attention to faces. This understanding of how the amygdala responds to neutral faces eventually fed into my social neuroscience work.

What excites you about your work? Why do you come to work in the morning?
First, I’m fascinated by the brain. I’m shocked by how little we know and, at the same time, I’m amazed by the potential to learn more daily. In terms of healthcare and quality of life, we are at the very beginning of doing what we can to help enhance brain function. It is so exciting to be a witness and, in a small way, a contributor at this time, when we are on the cusp of making breakthroughs in brain research that will revolutionize brain health. I hope to one day be involved in research that looks at the intimate relationship between the brain and the rest of the body. There is a lot of exciting work to do in this area. We often gloss over the fact that the brain and the body work together as one big system. We are going to see people treating their brain the way they do their bodies in terms of exercise, training, and a focus on health. When some of these future breakthroughs in brain research start taking hold, I think everybody’s lives will be changed.

What do you do for fun?
Well, right now I’m fitting a five-year doctorate into three. But I do play the piano and I love international travel. My favorite places to visit right now are Italy and Israel, but … there are many other places on my bucket list! 

Center for BrainHealth

#MyBrainHealthMatters Campaign

Thursday, May 5, 2016


#MyBrainHealthMatters and yours does too!

It’s time for a paradigm shift in the the way we think, talk, and act about our brains.

Making even small lifestyle changes like nurturing your brain with adequate sleep, physical exercise, and a healthier diet can garner a huge return. Avoiding toxic mental practices like multitasking and the comfort of status quo is crucial. If you are mentally ‘coasting’, you are going downhill and losing cognitive capacity. Instead, actively pursue brain health fitness by giving your brain adequate downtime and keeping it engaged with decision-making, deep thinking, and critical reasoning. Elevating our brain spans to match our ever-expanding lifespans will reap significant rewards to benefit our communities, our cities, our state, our country and the world.

While extraordinary efforts have been made to better understand how the brain works and fails to work over the last decade, we have only begun to scratch the surface when discovering our brain’s potential.

We once believed that the brain you were born with was the static, unchangeable brain you were to use for the rest of your life.

Fortunately, we have learned that the brain is incredibly dynamic and we have the potential to improve our mental capacity regardless of age, injury or illness.

In an effort to continue the momentum of brain health awareness, we have launched a social media campaign entitled #MyBrainHealthMatters.

Be part of the #MyBrainHealthMatters movement in 5 easy steps!

  1. Download the #MyBrainHealthMatters icon here
  2. Take a picture while holding our logo
  3. Tag us and at least one other person
  4. Include the hashtag #MyBrainHealthMatters
  5. Share it with your friends and followers on Facebook, Instagram and/or Twitter

Visit our Facebook (must be signed in), Instagram and Twitter pages to see how our staff kicked off the campaign. 

Read the Huffington Post blog by Center for BrainHealth's founder and chief director Dr. Sandra Bond Chapman that talks about the campaign.

Join the brain health conversation today because #MyBrainHealthMatters and so does yours! 


Center for BrainHealth

Reprogramming the Brain to Health Symposium 2016

Monday, May 2, 2016

The most distinguished brain scientists from around the world shared groundbreaking discoveries that may further precision medicine at the Center for BrainHealth’s Reprogramming the Brain to Health Symposium on April 14. In its tenth year, the Symposium highlighted neurology and advances made in computational psychiatry, an emerging field that seeks to use neurobiological information to inform individualized therapies.  

Scientists discussed how computational psychiatry is informing their research in anxiety and impaired decision making, depression, addiction, schizophrenia, rehabilitation and cognitive dysfunction, and what networks are associated with thought and decision-making. The Symposium is held in partnership with the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute at University of California, Berkeley.

“The future of mental health will be to depart from the one-pill-fits-all era to an age of individualized care that can specifically target an underlying disorder based not only on behavior, but also neural data,” said Xiaosi Gu, Ph.D., assistant professor at The University of Texas at Dallas and head of the Computational Psychiatry Unit at the Center for BrainHealth. “Using imaging technology and advanced analysis, we will one day be able to objectively measure psychological well-being and evaluate the effectiveness of treatment and therapy. Having the founders of computational psychiatry – Dr. Friston, Dr. Montague and Dr. Dayan present the latest discoveries to an audience hungry for brain health advances was truly exciting.”

Annually at the symposium, the Charles L. Branch BrainHealth Awardis given to a pioneering neuroscientist whose innovation has made a tremendous contribution to brain research. This year’s recipient, Professor Karl Friston, FRS, FMedSci, who is considered the father of modern brain mapping, was honored. Dr. Friston is the Wellcome Trust Principal Research Fellow and Scientific Director of the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging, Professor at the Institute of Neurology at University College London, and an Honorary Consultant to the United Kingdom's National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery.

“Our family has been honored to see the legacy of my father recognized through this Charles Branch BrainHealth Award,” said Charles Branch Jr., M.D., chair of neurosurgery at Wake Forest University. “We really appreciate the opportunity to participate in a perpetuation of great science that investigates how the brain works and how we are going to unravel the mysteries of the brain.” 

Interviews with the Symposium speakers along with their full lectures will be available soon.

Center for BrainHealth

Friends of BrainHealth 2014 Award Updates

Monday, May 2, 2016

Priming the Minds of Elementary Students for Middle School better

Lori Cook, Ph.D., director of pediatric brain injury programs, completed her post-doctoral work under the direction of Sandra Chapman, Ph.D. With the 2014 Sapphire Foundation Distinguished New Scientist Award, Dr. Cook is investigating how to use a strategy-based training developed at the Center for BrainHealth called Strategic Memory Advanced Reasoning Training (SMART), to prime the minds of elementary-aged children for more complex learning in middle school.

She is currently working with typically-developing participants ages 7 to 11 for the pilot study and plans to complete data collection by the end of 2016. If proven effective, the program could be tailored to help not only typically-developing children but also those with learning differences, ADHD, and/or traumatic brain injury and bears potential as a future service to be offered through the Center’s Brain Performance Institute.


Exploiting Novel Techniques to Optimize Brain Performance in Aging

Bambi DeLaRosa, Ph.D., a research assistant under the direction of John Hart, Jr., M.D., is using EEG neurofeedback to better understand the relationship between brain waves and cognitive performance. Her study focuses on investigating how increasing the brain’s peak alpha wave frequency affects cognition. The paradigm provides real-time feedback to the participant using a video image. In order to prevent the image from disappearing on the screen, the participant must maintain a certain alpha frequency, thus training the brain to modulate its alpha wave. Future applications could lead to use of the novel brain training to extend an individual’s cognitive abilities in healthy aging.    


Concussion Testing in High School Athletes

Nyaz Didehbani, Ph.D. was the recipient of the 2014 Katherine and Bob Penn Visionary Award to explore the efficacy of an ocular test that assesses youth sports concussions on the playing field. Dr. Didehbani has conducted baseline testing for 42 male and female athletes (23 football players, 10 soccer players, 9 basketball players) prior to the first game of their sport season and the end of the season. Baseline testing included brain imaging, computerized testing, pupil measurements, balance tests and cognitive testing.

Researchers presented a poster at the National Academy of Neuropsychology in Austin earlier this year.  Pilot data from this study will be used for an upcoming National Institutes of Health grant later this summer.


Using the Virtual World to Understand and Improve the Real World of Brain Injuries

Leanne Young, M.A., a doctoral student and research assistant under the direction of Daniel Krawczyk, Ph.D., received the 2014 Friends of BrainHealth Linda and Joel Robuck Visionary Award. Using a virtual reality platform that mimics real-life cognitive tasks, Leanne utilized the funding to develop a protocol for taxing frontal lobe functions, including the ability to distraction inhibition and goal execution to be used for individualized, comprehensive treatments for those with traumatic brain injuries.

The data collected will be reflected in a U.S. Army proposal to develop a virtual reality-based therapeutic intervention for chronic-phase traumatic brain injury patients. 

Center for BrainHealth

BrainHealth awarded over $490,000 to study effects of multiple sclerosis on brain blood flow and cognition

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The National Multiple Sclerosis Society awarded Dr. Bart Rypma, associate professor at the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas, more than $490,000 to investigate how changes in brain blood flow impact cognition for individuals with multiple sclerosis (MS).

Multiple sclerosis affects over 2.3 million people worldwide, and those diagnosed often complain of an overall slowing of thought,” said Bart Rypma, Ph.D., principle investigator who holds the Meadows Foundation Chair at The University of Texas at Dallas. “Still, very little is known about what changes occur in the brain that cause cognitive slowing in MS. Using fMRI to examine cerebral blood flow and neural metabolic rate, we hope to pinpoint the brain systems responsible.”

As part of the study, eighty research participants will undergo structural and functional brain imaging and neuropsychological evaluation. Researchers will collect a unique set of measures never before collected in a single group of MS patients using the latest imaging techniques called calibrated functional magnetic resonance imaging and diffusion kurtosis imaging.

Brain imaging will allow researchers to observe neural metabolic rate, or where oxygen is delivered within the brain, how much oxygen those cells consume, and how changes to those factors could lead to cognitive slowing. Researchers will also assess which systems in the brain – visual, motor, or executive – most account for cognitive slowing. The newly awarded grant will build upon Dr. Rypma’s previous research on disconnections in brain networks and the cognitive effects of MS.

“Cognitive changes affect at least one half or more of people with MS,” says Nicholas LaRocca, PhD, Vice President, Health Care Delivery and Policy Research for the National MS Society. “Dr. Rypma’s study explores a biological basis that may help to explain these changes. This work can propel the knowledge necessary to provide everyday solutions for the cognitive problems experienced by people with MS.”

Visit the Multiple Sclerosis page to view more information about ongoing Multiple Sclerosis research at the Center for BrainHealth.

Center for BrainHealth

Prestigious Placement for BrainHealth Postdoc

Thursday, April 7, 2016

UT Dallas doctoral student Sam DeWitt, M.S., is the recipient of a postdoctoral fellowship at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, a medical school consistently ranked in the top 20 for research productivity nationwide. His work will focus on reward processing from a neuroimaging perspective in adolescents with mood and anxiety disorders.

“We are very excited for Sam to join us in the Pediatric Mood and Anxiety Disorders Program at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai,” said Vilma Gabbay, M.D., Chief of the Pediatric Mood and Anxiety Disorders Program and Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Neuroscience, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “His expertise in fMRI and his experience with research on reward functioning in adolescent populations make him extremely well-suited to contribute to our projects that examine reward circuitry dysfunction in youth. We were extremely impressed by Sam when he came to interview at Mount Sinai and know that he will be an excellent addition to our team!”

DeWitt is scheduled to receive his Ph.D. in cognition and neuroscience this spring before heading to Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York in August. He is currently a research assistant in the Cognitive Neuroscience Research of Addictive Behaviors lab at the Center for BrainHealth under the direction of Francesca Filbey, Ph.D. where he added seven publications to his credit, serving as lead author on two of them.

“I am very excited about this opportunity. It is a perfect continuation of my current dissertation research that focuses on the neural underpinnings of reward processing in healthy adolescents,” said DeWitt. “I always envisioned that the next step would be turning my attention towards such processes in clinical adolescent populations.”

DeWitt holds a master’s degree in Applied Cognition and Neuroscience from UT Dallas and completed his undergraduate degree in psychology with a minor in neuroscience at The Ohio State University. He studied translational neuroscience at the Mind Research Network at the University of New Mexico for two years before joining the Center for BrainHealth.

“This is a high honor for Sam and his advisor, Dr. Francesca Filbey,” said Bruce Jones, Ph.D., the director of research and operations at Center for BrainHealth. “The UT Dallas neuroscience program is growing in reputation, and Sinai is a really prestigious placement.”

Center for BrainHealth

Dr. Dianna Jaffin: Advancing Human Performance Optimization

Monday, April 4, 2016

In November, The Center for BrainHealth welcomed Dianna Purvis Jaffin, Ph.D., PMP, to the role of Director of Strategy and Programs for its Brain Performance Institute.

She joins the Dallas team from Bethesda, Maryland, where she served as the Director of Innovation and Strategy for the Consortium of Health and Military Performance (CHAMP) at the U.S. Department of Defense Center of Excellence for translation of human performance optimization science.

A leader in the Department of Defense human performance optimization community, Jaffin played a critical role in the U.S. Army Brain Health Initiative and Human Dimension Concept, an initiative to enhance the human element in combat situations. She has also developed and led wellness programs for corporations, government agencies, and firefighters.

As the Brain Performance Institute prepares to open in spring 2017, Executive Director Eric Bennett has empowered Jaffin to lead a team that vets innovative options for future Institute offerings.

“Dr. Jaffin’s invaluable insight and shrewd business sense have proven successful at the highest levels of the U.S. Department of Defense,” said Bennett. “We are extremely lucky to have her on our team.”

With several publications and presentations to her credit, Jaffin is not just a program leader, but also a subject matter expert in multiple domains that affect human performance such as sleep, exercise, stress management, and nutrition. She has experience not only creating programs, but also implementing and marketing them to the end user.

“What first attracted me to Center for BrainHealth research is its emphasis on translational science and culture of innovation and collaboration. There are few places like this in the country, if any,” Jaffin says. “I’m looking forward to the opportunity to help explore new ways for people to achieve their performance goals. I believe in taking a holistic approach that combines cognitive training with exercise, nutrition that supports brain health, effective stress management, and sleep.”

Center for BrainHealth

Fostering Brain Growth

Thursday, March 31, 2016

“In 1989, I started working with Child Protective Services as a volunteer,” said Emy Lou Baldridge. “We had a lot of children who had been diagnosed with failure to thrive syndrome. Dr. Bruce Perry from Houston, Texas showed us the brain image of a child who had failure to thrive, and you could actually see dark spots in the brain. That has stuck in my mind all these years.”

Emy Lou and Jerry Baldridge have made a 30-year mission out of supporting children’s causes, giving their time, talent and financial support to programs that provide resources to those in need. Ten years ago, they added Center for BrainHealth to their list of philanthropic causes.

The married couple of 54 years gifted $1 million to the Center for BrainHealth’s Brain Performance Institute capital campaign in support of the first building of its kind, a place that will provide programs to the community that are focused on improving brain health. The campaign’s vision to reach and serve a greater number of people than the traditional brain research model aligned with the Baldridges’ charitable philosophy.

“Through volunteer work I have seen the devastating challenges teens in low-income neighborhoods face and know that they are full of untapped potential,” said Emy Lou. “I was thrilled to learn that low-income students who participated in the teen reasoning research study at the Center for BrainHealth improved their grades after the training program. Dedicating this building means that there will be more programs like this available to those who need it, which I think is so important.”

Emy Lou is recognized for her long resumé of community involvement as a child advocate. Among her accomplishments is a Greater Texas Community Partners initiative to help CPS case workers gain access to essential supplies for abused and neglected children, such as formula, diapers and car seats. The program has been emulated at the state level and had the support of former first lady Laura Bush. Jerry has also given of his time. He served for many years as a financial counselor for Interfaith Housing Coalition where he provided money saving tips and advice on how to attain gainful employment on a one-on-one basis to clients who were homeless. He is currently on the board of Dallas Afterschool.

The Baldridges’ generous capital campaign contribution helps advance the Brain Performance Institute’s goal to deliver the latest advances in brain science to the public as quickly as possible, offering cognitive training programs, community lectures and other brain-enhancing options.

“It’s nice to have the research knowledge, but to put it to use really makes the difference,” explained Jerry. “The idea of turning research projects into programs that benefit people should be very interesting and productive. It’s not like anything that we’ve ever seen before.”

Center for BrainHealth

Grant to Help Brain Scientists Dig Deeper into Detecting Deception

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Social interactions, such as navigating a conversation or determining whether someone is being truthful or not, are some of the most complex tasks the brain carries out, yet little is understood about the social brain on a neurobiological level.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Biotechnology Office awarded scientists at the Center for BrainHealth at UT Dallas a $401,000 grant to develop a method that would map and quantify aspects of the social brain. Researchers will investigate deception using imaging technology and advanced mathematical analysis to quantify its brain-basis. The study will incorporate the impact of cultural differences, an aspect increasingly relevant to military intelligence gathering operations.

“Previous studies indicate that individuals accurately judge someone as truthful only 54 percent of the time,” said study principal investigator Dr. Daniel Krawczyk, associate professor at UT Dallas and the Debbie and Jim Francis Chair in BrainHealth at the Center for BrainHealth. “There is some evidence to suggest that we might actually have a better chance at correctly assessing whether someone is telling the truth or not using intuition rather than deliberate thought. These implicit, often rapid judgments we typically associate with intuition must exist at some level in the brain and are exactly what we are trying to capture.”

The pilot study will include 50 volunteers who will review video scenarios of people telling lies or truths while undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). The research team will assess brain patterns when an individual is observing lies or truths, and when an individual is perceiving someone as trustworthy or untrustworthy. The researchers will examine whether cultural difference among the test subjects affect the ability of people to recognize these two types of deception.

The researchers will utilize a computerized, advanced mathematical approach called multivariate pattern analysis (MVPA) to assess the brain patterns.

“MVPA is a particularly useful analysis for this problem because we think that multiple brain areas will be involved in making subtle estimates of trust from faces. Adding to this, the problem of making trust judgments cross-culturally, will further complicate the brain’s task,” said co-principal investigator Dr. Alice O’Toole, Aage and Margareta Møller Professor in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences. “MVPA has an important advantage over other kinds of functional neuroimaging analyses in that it can detect differences in brain patterns, above and beyond simple differences in the strength of the neural response.”

Traditionally, social engagement measurement tools have been qualitative in nature with self-reports and surveys.

“Of utmost importance is demonstrating not who is lying or who is not trustworthy, but that we can use this method to decode the social brain. Past imaging data analysis has compared brain activity levels in different brain regions or in different conditions under the false assumption that brain regions operate independently from one another,” said Leanne Young, Center for BrainHealth research assistant who is working on the study. “Our thought is that if we can use more sophisticated, complex mathematics, we will be able to decode brain behaviors during very complex social situations and provide a base for the quantitative data that DARPA seeks.”

“There is nothing more important than our ability to interact socially,” said study collaborator Dr. James Bartlett, interim dean of the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences. “If we can map what is happening at a neural level and tie those patterns to an individual’s thoughts or actions in a healthy brain, we believe we will eventually have the ability to use that information to drive therapeutic treatments for various social impairments such as autism, post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia and others.”

The results of this study may help DARPA effectively measure the complex social aspects of military training and operations in environments where social intelligence is critical for cross-cultural awareness, interactions and, ultimately, survival.

This material is based upon work supported by the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center, Pacific, under Award No. N66001-15-1-4037.  Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center, Pacific.

Center for BrainHealth

Brain Awareness Week 2016

Thursday, March 17, 2016

 Francesca Filbey, Ph.D., is an associate professor at The University of Texas at Dallas and holds the Bert Moore Chair in Behavioral and Brain Sciences. She researches the causes and consequences of addiction. 

“Progress in science can be facilitated by translational research that brings real-world applications of scientific discoveries to bear. For example, a ‘bench-to-bedside’ approach brings important findings from basic research into human applications that also promotes interdisciplinary collaborations. Translational, integrative approaches allow a more comprehensive understanding of the underpinnings of behavior from vast perspectives.”


 Xiaosi Gu, Ph.D., is an assistant professor at The University of Texas at Dallas. At the Center for Brain Health, her research in computational psychiatry examines the neural and computational mechanisms underlying human decision-making and social interaction in both health and disease. 

“The future of mental health will be to depart from the one-pill-fits-all era to an age of individualized care that can specifically target an underlying disorder based not only on behavior, but also neural data. Using imaging technology and advanced analysis, we will one day be able to objectively measure psychological well-being and evaluate the effectiveness of treatment and therapy.” 



 John Hart, Jr., M.D., is a professor at The University of Texas at Dallas, the medical science director at Center for BrainHealth, and holds the Jane and Bud Smith Distinguished Chair. he has a joint appointment in the departments of neurology and psychiatry at The UT Southwestern Medical Center. He is one of the world's foremost experts on how memory is stored and knowledge is accessed. 

"After years of dissecting how cognitive-anatomic units function in the brain, I feel the future role of cognitive neuroscience will be to construct what we call 'neural circuits' from these specific units we have detected. As all neural circuits in the brain function to conduct the electrical impulses of brain cells, modulating these circuits electrically can lead to improving poor performance after injury. Thus, our lab is focused on constructing these circuits for how individuals retrieve and store long-term memories and modulate these circuits electrically using a variety of investigative techniques."


Daniel Krawczyk, Ph.D., is an associate professor at The University of Texas at Dallas and holds the Debbie and Jim Francis Chair of BrainHealth. His research interests include working memory, reasoning, decision-making, and social cognition. 

“There is a big gap from the lab to real-life surveys. As we continue to develop brain and behavioral measures, it is important to emphasize how imaging, genetics, behavior and neuropsychological markers are related and how they can work together to maximize what’s most important for daily-life functioning”


Ian Robertson, Ph.D., is the T. Boone Pickens Distinguished Scientist at the Center for BrainHealth and Chair of Psychology at Trinity College Dublin. 

“One cannot consider the individual brain in isolation; it is a complex system with multiple interactions between mind, brain, body and environment.”



 Bart Rypma, Ph.D., is an associate professor at The University of Texas at Dallas and holds the Meadows Foundation Chair. His research explores the cognitive and neurobiological mechanisms of human memory and how these are affected by aging and disease. 

“To make meaningful contributions to improving the human condition, brain science must move beyond the study of neurons alone to understand the functioning, living brain, in its dynamic integrative entirety.”


Jeffrey S. Spence, Ph.D., is the Director of Biostatistics at the Center for BrainHealth and also holds an adjunct faculty appointment in the Department of internal Medicine, Division of Epidemiology at The UT Southwestern Medical Center. 

“We must not only define brain health, but also utilize a rich, multimodal database that can objectively measure it. Successfully leveraging neuroinformatics, a combination of modeling, statistics, and computing, can make this complicated task manageable, creating a future where we can monitor the brain in health and evaluate therapeutic improvement following injury or disease.”

Center for BrainHealth

Dr. John Hart's Textbook Maps Thinking and Emotion

Monday, March 14, 2016

A new textbook authored by Center for BrainHealth’s Medical Science Director, John Hart, Jr., M.D., is one of the first brain mapping textbooks in the field of cognitive neuroscience. Published by Oxford University Press, The Neurobiology of Cognition and Behavior is a textbook that examines functional neuroimaging studies and lesion studies to identify consistent brain behavior correlations.

The textbook compiles many of his research findings and other expert knowledge cultivated as a Professor of Behavioral and Brain Sciences at UT Dallas with a joint appointment in the departments of Neurology and Neurotherapeutics and Psychiatry at The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.

“As a behavioral neurologist and cognitive neuroscientist, Dr. Hart is in a perfect position to provide a unique view of where these two disciplines converge. The result is an outstanding monograph that I would highly recommend to anyone who seeks to learn about of the biological basis of the mind,” said Mark D’Esposito, M.D., Professor of Neuroscience and Psychology, Director, Henry H. Wheeler, Jr. Brain Imaging Center, University of California, Berkeley, Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute, Berkeley, CA.

The Johns Hopkins-trained neurologist is one of the world’s foremost experts on how knowledge is stored and accessed in the brain, otherwise known as semantic memory, co-editing the book Neural Basis for Semantic Memory with Michael A. Kraut, M.D., Ph.D., in 2007.

At The University of Texas at Dallas, Hart holds the Distinguished Chair in Neuroscience and the Jane and Bud Smith Distinguished Chair.

Center for BrainHealth

Robert Rennaker Appointed Chief of Neuroengineering at Center for BrainHealth

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Center for BrainHealth announces the appointment of Robert L. Rennaker II, Ph.D., as Chief of Neuroengineering at the Center. The role will be in conjunction with his leadership of the UT Dallas Texas Biomedical Device Center where he has served as executive director since 2013. The interdisciplinary collaboration will explore pushing the boundaries of neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to change and adapt throughout life. Initial work will investigate how to enhance human cognitive performance by combining the Center’s scientifically validated brain training with a wireless medical device that can interface with the body and brain.

“Dr. Rennaker and his team are developing innovative technologies to advance brain repair that could only have been imagined five years ago. His results show tremendous promise in dramatically improving brain function in motor and sensory domains,” explained Sandra Bond Chapman, Ph.D., Center for BrainHealth founder and chief director. “We have high expectations that Dr. Rennaker’s neurodevices will also have vast additive benefits to improving complex cognitive performance when used in conjunction with other treatments to enhance recovery and resilience.”

Rennaker’s latest findings published recently in the journal Stroke, reveal that targeted plasticity significantly enhanced the benefits of rehabilitation compared to rehabilitation alone for stroke patients. According to Rennaker, targeted plasticity is analogous to “a key that unlocks the brain’s full potential to recover,” but if it is to reach those who need the technology, it must be affordable and minimally invasive.

“The pill-sized device artificially activates the vagus nerve to release neurotransmitters involved in learning,” explained Rennaker. “Normally, the excitement of learning new tasks results in the release of adrenaline in the body which activates the vagus nerve. In the cases of stroke, where an individual must relearn tasks that used to be routine (such as picking up objects), the pill-sized device stimulates the vagus nerve to artificially provide the ‘excitement’ signal to enhance learning and memory. Activation of the vagus nerve releases neurotransmitters critical to learning and memory. We call this approach targeted plasticity because it enhances plasticity in specific pathways critical for recovery.”

Rennaker illustrated an example, explaining that, following some brain injuries, the parts of the brain that previously controlled a limb are damaged. Physical therapy attempts to train uninjured areas of the brain to control movement of the affected limb. Targeted plasticity pairs the release of neurotransmitters with therapy to strengthen brain regions, which are learning to control these movements. In doing so, targeted plasticity enhances learning in these specific brain regions and restores function to a greater extent than therapy alone. Rennaker and his team are exploring the use of targeted plasticity for traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder as well as enhancing normal memory and cognition.

“The goal is to create a ubiquitous platform that will enhance the brain’s ability to learn and recover, also known as, brain plasticity,” said Rennaker. “By pairing vagus nerve stimulation with scientifically validated therapies and brain training, we hope to demonstrate that targeted plasticity radically enhances the benefits, creating the next revolution in brain health. Partnering with the Center for BrainHealth will expedite this exciting path forward.”

Targeted plasticity is three to four years away from becoming publicly available but has already proven to be safe in three clinical trials. Rennaker posits that, with proper funding, the next version will be injectable and cost as little as $3,000 for the device, a price much less than the $25,000 price tag of currently available stimulators.

Eric Bennett, Brain Performance Institute executive director, who has been working for months with Drs. Chapman and Rennaker to solidify the collaboration, foresees that the partnership will have implications for offerings at the Brain Performance Institute in the future. “This collaboration has the potential to create unprecedented applications that can help people regain control over their brains and their bodies,” explained Bennett.

Dr. Rennaker is a former enlisted U.S. Marine who served five years on active duty. He served in Liberia, the 1st Gulf War, and Yugoslavia. After being honorably discharged in 1993, he earned a Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering from Arizona State University and spent seven years as a professor at the University of Oklahoma in the Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering Department. Now at UT Dallas, he is a full professor with appointments in Electrical Engineering and Neuroscience, holds the Texas Instruments Distinguished Chair in Bioengineering, and is head of the UT Dallas Department of Bioengineering. 

Center for BrainHealth

Brain Connectivity Disruptions May Explain Cognitive Deficits in People with Brain Injury

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Cognitive impairment following a traumatic brain injury (TBI) is common, often adversely affecting quality of life for those 1.7 million Americans who experience a TBI each year. Researchers at the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas have identified complex brain connectivity patterns in individuals with chronic phases of traumatic brain injury, which may explain long term higher order cognitive function deficits.

A study recently published in the Journal of International Neuropsychological Society found that individuals who are at least six months post-injury exhibit between-network, long-range and inter-hemispheric connectivity disruptions. Specifically, scientists observed TBI-related connectivity disruptions in the default mode and dorsal attention networks and the default mode and frontoparietal control networks; interactions among the networks are key to achieving daily life goals.

“Cooperation between the default mode network, dorsal attentionand the frontoparietal control networksiskey to controlling internal trains of thought and achieving tasks in changing environments,” said Kihwan Han, Ph.D., study lead author and post doctoral research associate at the Center for BrainHealth. “Interactions among these networksare intricately intertwined and critical to daily life tasks such as planning, learning and problem solving. This work suggests that cognitive deficits may be a result of reduced efficiency in brain-network communications.”

For the study, researchers analyzed MRI scans of 40 TBI individuals with those of 17 healthy individuals matched for gender, age and years of education. Participants were ages 19 to 45. While all individuals in the TBI group were at least six months post-injury at the time of the study, the average length of time since injury was eight years with no history of any significant, clinically-diagnosed neurological or psychiatric disorders prior to their TBI.

“Much research has focused on separating out individual brain networks,”  said Daniel Krawczyk, Ph.D., principal investigator, associate professor of cognitive neuroscience and cognitive psychology at the Center for BrainHealth and Debbie and Jim Francis Chair at The University of Texas at Dallas. “This is the first study of its kind to show the intercorrelations among different networks and disruptions among them in individuals with TBI.”

“If key brain networks cannot interact in a normal way, the brain becomes inefficient,” Krawczyk explained. “Our future research will examine how networks can be improved or enhanced, even after a traumatic brain injury, with cognitive intervention.”

This work has been supported by Department of Defense CDMRP grants W81XWH-11-2-0194 and W81XWH-11-2-0195 and a grant from the Meadows Foundation.    

Center for BrainHealth

Neuropsychologist Brings Extensive Research Experience to BrainHealth

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Dr. Ian Robertson has joined the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas as the T. Boone Pickens Distinguished Scientist. His research seeks to improve brain health and cognitive performance in the aging population, with a particular focus on various brain stimulation methods. 

Robertson’s most recent efforts as co-director of the Global Brain Health Institute focus on building a worldwide alliance to train future leaders in brain health who will shape policies and practices around the globe to enhance brain health and delay or prevent dementia. 

“Dementia is more costly than stroke, heart disease and cancer combined,” Robertson said. “It is critical that we find ways to prolong brain health to match our ever increasing lifespan. Pooling expertise and expanding capacity to develop new protocols and practices that bridge the gap between research silos to translational application excites me for future scientific discoveries to be made in collaboration with researchers at the Center for BrainHealth.”

Among healthy adults, cognitive brain performance peaks, on average, around 40 years old, and estimates suggest the number of those living with dementia will triple by 2050. What’s promising is that research suggests that up to 30 percent of dementia cases are preventable through public health and lifestyle interventions.

Robertson’s scientific study at the center will focus on investigating non-pharmacological interventions to improve cognitive performance and brain health using psychophysiological measures and neuroimaging in partnership with Dr. Sandra Bond Chapman, founder and chief director of the center and Dee Wyly Distinguished University Chair, and Dr. Robert Rennaker, Texas Instruments Distinguished Chair in Bioengineering and director of the Texas Biomedical Device Center. 

 “One cannot consider the individual brain in isolation; it is a complex system with multiple interactions between mind, brain, body and environment,” Robertson said. “Future treatments of mind-brain disorders will need to discover and foster smart ways to influence brain function and improve real-life outcomes using modern technology and cognitive neuroscience-based methods in collaboration with molecular and cellular biology methods.”

"Dr. Robertson’s research accomplishments are impressively extensive and diverse,” said Dr. Hobson Wildenthal, president ad interim. “He brings to the Center for BrainHealth not only his individual knowledge, insights, and creative research ideas, but also offers a very significant expansion of the center’s international network of scientific advisors and collaborators. He is a very articulate and charismatic expositor of the values and promises of the brain sciences, and will bring a powerful portfolio of talents to augment the scientific strength of the center and its educational outreach efforts as well." 

Robertson is currently the Chair of Psychology at Trinity College Dublin and founding director of Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience. He was a Fellow at Hughes Hall, Cambridge, and has visiting professorships at University College in London and Columbia University in New York. Robertson has published more than 400 papers and several books, including co-authoring the leading international textbook on cognitive rehabilitation. In 2014, he was elected as a Fellow of the American Association for Psychological Science in recognition of his “sustained and outstanding distinguished contributions to psychological science.”

"Understanding how the brain works and improving brain performance is key to quality of life,” said T. Boone Pickens, the Texas energy executive who has been a major underwriter of the center. "The Center for BrainHealth is developing breakthroughs in this field. I like being involved with people who are on the forefront of discovery that will change the future for the better. It’s clear they are committed to bringing the best talent on board to achieve their objectives, and their partnership with Dr. Ian Robertson truly exemplifies that fact."

Center for BrainHealth

Symposium to Provide Global Perspectives on Brain Health and the Emerging Field of Computational Psychiatry

Thursday, February 11, 2016

On April 14, the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas and its partners at the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute at The University California, Berkeley, will host the tenth annual Reprogramming the Brain to Health Symposium focusing on computational psychiatry and neurology.

The 2016 Symposium will bring together distinguished cognitive scientists, neuroscientists, physicians, psychologists, rehabilitation specialists, educators and students to explore computational psychiatry, a new interdisciplinary field which highlights the need for computational methods that can bridge the explanatory gap between biological processes and mental illness.

Keynote speaker, Professor Karl Friston, FRS, FMedSci, Wellcome Trust Principal Research Fellow and Scientific Director of the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging, Professor at the Institute of Neurology at University College London, and an Honorary Consultant to the United Kingdom's National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, will receive the Dr. Charles L. Branch BrainHealth Award for his contributions to brain mapping and network based analysis.

“Understanding the complexity of the brain and exploring how brain health research can lead to individualized treatment plans is the future of the field,” said Dr. Sandra Bond Chapman, founder and chief director of the Center for BrainHealth. “Dr. Friston is a pioneering, futuristic thinker who has contributed immeasurably to furthering brain health discoveries.”

Since 2010, the Dr. Charles L. Branch BrainHealth Award has honored neuroscientists who have made noteworthy breakthroughs in brain discoveries. The Award, acknowledging a cognitive neuroscientist of true renown, is named after Charles Branch, M.D., a leading research scholar, neurosurgeon, humanitarian, and brain mapping pioneer who trained with legendary neuro-icons Drs. Wilder Penfield and Theodore Rassmussen.

Previous Charles L. Branch BrainHealth Award recipients include Marcus E. Raichle, M.D. (2015), Floyd Bloom, M.D. (2014), Daniel R. Weinberger, M.D. (2013), Donald T. Stuss, Ph.D. (2012), Joaquin Fuster, M.D., Ph.D. (2011), and Michael Gazzaniga, Ph.D. (2010).

"This symposium celebrates computational psychiatry – an emerging field that holds great promise for mental health and basic neuroscience,” says Professor Karl Friston, FRS, FMedSci. "Computational psychiatry provides a forum where we can address arguably the most challenging problem in science and healthcare -- understanding how the brain works and what goes wrong in psychopathology. I am looking forward to quite a visionary symposium full of riveting conversations about radically new perspectives and opportunities for understanding psychopathology.”

This year’s organizer, Xiaosi Gu, Ph.D., assistant professor at the Center for BrainHealth, curated the 2016 speaker line-up to include:

·       Read Montague, Ph.D., Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University;

·       Sonia Bishop, Ph.D., Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute at The University of California, Berkeley;

·       Peter Dayan, Ph.D., Gatsby Computational Neuroscience Unit at University College London;

·       Xiaosi Gu, Ph.D., Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas;

·       John Krystal, M.D., Yale University School of Medicine;

·       Karl Friston, FRS, FMedSci, Institute of Neurology at University London College;

·       Peter Fox, M.D., The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio; and

·       Mark D’Esposito, M.D., University of California, Berkeley.

Symposium attendees will learn about the most recent findings and methodologies in computational psychiatry while also participating in discussions with expert speakers to gain feedback about their own research.

For additional Symposium registration information, visit www.centerforbrainhealth.org/symposium.

Center for BrainHealth

Starting Age of Marijuana Use May Have Long-Term Effects on Brain Development

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The age at which an adolescent begins using marijuana may affect typical brain development, according to researchers at the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas. In a paper recently published in Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, scientists describehow marijuana use, and the age at which use is initiated, may adversely alter brain structures that underlie higher order thinking.

Findings show study participants who began using marijuana at the age of 16 or younger demonstrated brain variations that indicate arrested brain development in the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for judgment, reasoning and complex thinking. Individuals who started using marijuana after age 16 showed the opposite effect and demonstrated signs of accelerated brain aging.

“Science has shown us that changes in the brain occurring during adolescence are complex. Our findings suggest that the timing of cannabis use can result in very disparate patterns of effects,” explained Francesca Filbey, Ph.D., principal investigator and Bert Moore Chair of Behavioral and Brain Sciences at the Center for BrainHealth.“Not only did age of use impact the brain changes but the amount of cannabis used also influenced the extent of altered brain maturation.”

The research team analyzed MRI scans of 42 heavy marijuana users; twenty participants were categorized as early onset users with a mean age of 13.18and 22 were labeled as late onset users with a mean age of 16.9. According to self-reports, all participants, ages 21-50, began using marijuana during adolescence and continued throughout adulthood, using cannabis at least one time per week.


According to Filbey, in typical adolescent brain development, the brain prunes neurons, which results in reduced cortical thickness and greater gray and white matter contrast. Typical pruning also leads to increased gyrification, which is the addition of wrinkles or folds on the brain’s surface. However, in this study, MRI results reveal that the more marijuana early onset users consumed, the greater their cortical thickness, the less gray and white matter contrast, and the less intricate the gyrification, as compared to late onset users. These three indexes indicate that when participants began using marijuana before age 16, the extent of brain alteration was directly proportionate to the number of weekly marijuana use in years and grams consumed. Contrastingly, those who began using marijuana after age 16 showed brain change that would normally manifest later in life: thinner cortical thickness, stronger gray and white matter contrast.

“In the early onset group, we found that how many times an individual uses and the amount of marijuana used strongly relates to the degree to which brain development does not follow the normal pruning pattern. The effects observed were above and beyond effects related to alcohol use and age. These findings are in line with the current literature that suggest that cannabis use during adolescence can have long-term consequences,” said Filbey.

Filbey notes that a longitudinal study would be necessary to establish a causal relationship between brain alterations and marijuana use. Her future studies will explore cognitive and behavioral changes associated with structural brain change and consider the different patterns of development within the adolescent period and how these patterns could lead to non-linear effects.This study was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (R01 DA030344, Filbey).

Center for BrainHealth

Building Camaraderie for Veterans: Highland Capital Management

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Center for BrainHealth has created a world-class environment for researchers to pursue advancements in cognitive health,” said Michael Gregory, CIO and Global Head of Highland Alternative Investors. “Their pioneering research was reason enough for our recent partnership, but it was their ability to translate this research into cognitive therapies for former military personnel through its Brain Performance Institute that truly warranted our financial support.”

When veterans leave military service, many of them are leaving the most cohesive, helpful and reliable network they’ve ever experienced. With new experiences, wisdom and skills, they are leaving their familiar brothers and sisters in arms to embark on a journey in uncharted territory as they transition back to civilian life.

“In the military, you are serving your country, but in combat, your focus is simplified to the warrior to your left and your right,” said Mike Rials, former Marine Corps sergeant and head of training at the Center’s Brain Performance Institute. “In the service, you have a sense of purpose and a built-in group of individuals who are your mentors, your brothers, your sisters and your best friends who will give and have given their lives for you, if necessary. But that purpose and trust are difficult to emulate or replace when you come home.”

Thanks to a $1 million gift from Highland Capital Management, the Center for BrainHealth’s new Brain Performance Institute will have a dedicated Highland Warrior Lounge, where active duty service members, veterans, and military spouses and caregivers can gather, unwind, and unite in camaraderie.

“We were really drawn to the idea of creating a zen-like room specifically for warriors and their families, a place to relax and socialize before and after trainings,” Gregory said.

In October, the Center for BrainHealth will celebrate the ground breaking of its state-of-the-art Brain Performance Institute – the cutting edge facility dedicated to translating leading-edge science to scalable solutions for the public at large. Thanks to private philanthropy, the Warrior Initiative was established in 2012 to provide high performance brain training to current and former military service men and women and their families. This patriotic endeavor has inspired new partners like Highland Capital Management to support the Institute’s building campaign.

“I’m excited for our friends at Highland Capital Management to meet the warriors who will spend hours in this room sharing stories and transforming their lives,” said KeeShaun Coffey, former Navy religious program specialist and head of business development for the Warrior Training Team. “The Highland Warrior Lounge will serve as a launching point for our veterans and their families to reach their maximum cognitive capabilities through SMART, our signature brain training program.”

In addition to the Highland Warrior Lounge, the Brain Performance Institute will organize and host five Highland Capital Warrior Reunions. Warriors who have participated in the Brain Performance Institute programs will be invited back to reconnect, network and return for supplementary brain boosting sessions months and even years after their initial training.

“We look forward to inviting our military heroes back to the Institute to engage with one another, interface with their clinicians and receive incremental training,” Gregory said. “Highland Capital Warrior Reunions will be a forum for warrior families to gather, participate and connect to a place that has become very meaningful to a lot of folks. We are grateful to be a part of this inspiring initiative and proud that our gift will enhance the lives of warriors for years to come.”

Center for BrainHealth

World Renowned Brain Experts to Lead Center for BrainHealth’s Annual Public Lecture Series

Monday, November 30, 2015


The Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas announces its much-sought annual lecture series today. The Brain: An Owner’s Guide, made possible by the Center’s ardent partners at The Container Store, is dedicated to bringing the hottest and most important recent discoveries from global leaders in brain science to the forefront of public attention. The four-part series, held at 2200 W. Mockingbird Lane, begins Tuesday, February 2, 2016 at 7:00pm and continues each Tuesday evening throughout the month.

“At The Container Store, we believe that being organized promotes a sharp mind, and brain health is critical to all of our futures in leading full, vibrant and impactful lives,” said Melissa Reiff, President and Chief Operating Officer of The Container Store. “Our customers and employees alike appreciate that we pursue creative, innovative partnerships like the one we’ve had for nine years with The Center for BrainHealth.  We know that The Brain: An Owner’s Guide lecture series will continue to educate and inspire our community, helping ignite passion for brain health and strengthen our strategic thinking skills and creative innovation every day - whether in our personal or our professional lives."

Neuroscience experts will travel from around the world to share life-transforming brain health insights including how mindfulness is making a tremendous difference on health in the business world; how the ever-evolving tech landscape makes for engaging and brain-health enhancing virtual creations for all ages; the significant relationship between our brain and our belly; and how mind-controlled devices may offer dramatic improvement in the lives of those with debilitating neurological disorders.

“Our mission at the Center is to unlock brain potential in people of all ages and stages,” said Center for BrainHealth Founder and Chief Director, Dr. Sandra Bond Chapman. “We have touched thousands of lives with the support of our extraordinary partners at The Container Store, shining a spotlight on the brain’s remarkable power and encouraging everyone to be an integral part of the brain health movement.”

The Brain: An Owner’s Guide 2016 Lecture Series schedule: 

Tuesday, February 2, 2016
The Emy Lou & Jerry Baldridge Lecture
Mindful Work: How Meditation Can Transform Business
David Gelles

What is this new phenomenon called “mindfulness” and how has it taken hold in companies like General Mills, Green Mountain Coffee, Facebook, and others around the world? David Gelles, accomplished New York Times reporter, explains this transition from reaction to integration to response, and the importance of “taking a breath” in the velocity of our day. Learn the ins and outs of mindfulness training, and how it is creating exceptional improvement in both personal performance and the levels of productivity, stress and employee satisfaction around the work place.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016
The Gratitude Foundation Lecture
Brain-Machine Interfaces: From Basic Science to Neurological Rehabilitation
Miguel Nicolelis, M.D., Ph.D. 

What if you could control devices just with your thoughts like your remote control or turning on lights? Neuroscientist Miguel Nicolelis, M.D., Ph.D. illustrates how state-of-the-art research on brain-machine interfaces makes it possible for the brain’s thoughts to interact directly with mechanical, computational and virtual devices without any interference of the body muscles or sensory organs. His recent experiments provide us rich clues regarding the fundamental links between brain signals and physical activities, while serving as an experimental paradigm aimed at testing the design of mind-controlled prosthetic devices. Did you get to watch a paraplegic man literally kick off the 2014 World Cup for the first time ever, using Dr. Nicolelis’ exoskeleton? A leading author and dynamic speaker, Dr. Nicolelis will hold your attention as you learn about how his compelling research offers dramatic potential to improve clinical treatment of paralysis and debilitating neurological disorders.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016
The Fluor Corporation Lecture
Video Games: Innovative Approaches to Enhance Brain Health at Any Age
Adam Gazzaley, M.D., Ph.D.

Dr. Adam Gazzaley is a riveting speaker and immensely innovative scientist consulting with tech giants like Google, Apple and other leaders in advanced technology to develop a glass brain—so individuals will soon be able to view how their brain works and learns in real time. A fundamental challenge for modern society is the development of effective approaches to enhance brain function and cognition in both healthy and impaired individuals. Recent advances in technology that support the creation of interactive virtual reality, and breakthroughs in non-invasive human neuroscience have resulted in a collision of these two exciting worlds. Hear from one of the leaders in this endeavor, Dr. Adam Gazzaley, founding director of the Neuroscience Imaging Center at UC San Francisco, as he discusses the science behind how video games could indeed, make our brains healthier and keep us driving safely longer.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016
The Quest Capital Management, Inc. Lecture
A Gut Feeling About the Brain: The Microbiome as a Key Regulator of Neurodevelopment and Behavior
John Cryan, Ph.D.

Ever had a “gut feeling” about something? It turns out, the connection between our gut and our brain might be stronger than we think. Dr. John Cryan, a neuropharmacologist and microbiome expert from the University College of Cork, Ireland, shares surprising facts and insights about how our thoughts and emotions are connected to our guts. As a TEDMED speaker, Dr. Cryan shares his fascination with biomedicine and why it offers a perfect way to explore the interaction between the brain, gut and microbiome, and how this relationship applies to stress- and immune-related disorders such as depression, anxiety, irritable bowel syndrome, obesity, and neurodevelopmental disorders including autism. Come with your curious mind and wonderment.

*Lecture tickets go on sale December 1, 2015 at www.centerforbrainhealth.org*

Center for BrainHealth

Center for BrainHealth’s Brain Performance Institute partners with Ciber to reach first responders in North Texas

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Center for BrainHealth’s Brain Performance Institute at The University of Texas at Dallas has joined forces with Ciber to deliver its evidence-based high performance brain training program called SMART (Strategic Memory Advanced Reasoning Training) to first responders in North Texas. A group from the Plano Police Department completed the program this week.

“Our mission at the Center for BrainHealth’s Brain Performance Institute™ is to maximize brain performance by providing strategies that enhance brain health, minimize stress and improve productivity,” said Dr. Sandra Bond Chapman, founder and chief director of the Center for BrainHealth® at The University of Texas at Dallas. “With Ciber’s generous support, we are furthering our efforts to reach as many of the more than 50,000 law enforcement officers in Texas to ensure they thrive both personally and professionally.” 

Based on more than 30 years of neuroscience research, the SMART program focuses on the brain’s intricate frontal lobe networks that govern planning, judgment, decision-making, problem-solving, emotional regulation and other cognitive functions. Through the training, first responders are equipped with strategies to achieve maximum brain performance, minimize stress and improve productivity. Program outcome measures with previous participants show improvement in trained areas of cognitive performance such as attention, reasoning and innovation as well as real-life benefits including improved organizational skills, better mood and fewer stress symptoms.

“This is a unique opportunity for law enforcement, and we are honored to be asked to take part in this training to maximize brain performance,” said Gregory Rushin, Chief of the Plano Police Department.

“At Ciber, we are dedicated to serving the communities where we work and live,” said Michael Boustridge, Ciber president and CEO. “We are happy to support the Center for BrainHealth’s life-changing work and our local first responders by supporting this unique training program.”

Since its founding in 2013, the Center for BrainHealth’s Brain Performance Institute has reached more than 50,000 individuals including military service members, veterans, military spouses and caregivers, collegiate and professional athletes, corporate executives, and teens in more than 15 states.

About Ciber

Ciber is a global IT consulting company with some 6,500 consultants in North America, Europe and Asia/Pacific, and approximately $1 billion in annual business. Ciber partners with organizations to develop technology strategies and solutions that deliver tangible business value. Founded in 1974, the company trades on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE: CBR). For more information, visit www.Ciber.com.

Center for BrainHealth

Fighting Wars at Home: A Veteran's Perspective and Passion for Change

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Dangerous. Uneducated. Crazy. Unstable. All are labels that continue to haunt generations of veterans. And all are labels that couldn’t be further from the truth. Yet, here we are, after more than 14 years of our nation’s most recent and longest war and we are also fighting wars at home: the war against stigmata associated with what it means to be a veteran and – an even bigger battle – the war within ourselves. 

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, post 9-11veterans are seeking care at VA more than ever before. The agency’s data show that from 2002 to 2009, one million troops left active duty in Iraq or Afghanistan and became eligible for VA care. Of those troops, 46% sought VA services and almost half were diagnosed with a mental health condition.

Unfortunately, there are many more veterans out there who have not sought care because of the stigmata associated with the defining organ of our humanity – our brain.

As a veteran of the United States Marine Corps diagnosed with both traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), I know firsthand why veterans do not seek help. We don’t want to be seen as soft; we don’t want to be treated differently, and we certainly don’t want our families and friends to lose confidence in us.

My story may sound familiar to fellow warriors. On my third deployment, in Afghanistan, the back right tire of the truck I was riding in hit an anti-tank mine. I was knocked unconscious by the impact of the blast. While I was eventually able to crawl out of a turret, one of my close friends, Travis, died.

As horrible as that experience was, my ordeal was just beginning. I returned home to an environment I no longer understood, with a unique set of experiences that left me feeling isolated. My wartime mindset served me well through three combat deployments; however, I found myself lost and without purpose once I was home.

Fortunately, I found what I needed. On Veterans Day 2011, I was introduced to the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas, home to scientists on the cutting edge of innovative and transformative brain research. 

Since then, I have learned a great deal about the brain and how it works. I have learned PTSD changes the chemistry and physiology of the brain as a result of a stressful event or events. PTSD is not self-inflicted. TBI is a common consequence of car accidents and most often, falls. Cognitive deficits and behavioral issues often emerge after such an injury. These changes in the brain are not permanent. The brain is in fact, constantly changing and creating new connections, every day and through every experience. We can improve our brain performance. With or without diagnoses, we can all be better than we were yesterday.

Two programs designed by Center for BrainHealth scientists equipped me with the tools to change my life. The first addressed my PTSD by combining two treatments and challenge my previous beliefs, ultimately helping to re-train my brain’s response to fearful situations. Since participating in the program, my thoughts are no longer jumbled and I feel calmer. It is easier for me to go through daily activities and stressors without anxiety and I have fewer symptoms of depression. 

The second, the Strategic Memory Advanced Reasoning Training (SMART) program, is a cognitive brain training program that helps build the brain’s ability to think strategically, reason, and solve problems, even after sustaining a TBI. The SMART program has been found effective in improving the brain performance and psychological health of those, including veterans, who have sustained a TBI, even long after the injury

My new purpose in life is to help other veterans, and all individuals no matter their experiences, overcome brain conditions and regain their brain health. There is effective research being done on the brain and there are proven interventions that should be foregrounded by the media and the public at large to enhance our appreciation for the complex organ between our ears.

I encourage my fellow veterans, their friends and family members, to find out more by visiting www.centerforbrainhealth.org.  Know that through persistence, resourcefulness and self-discipline—qualities we developed in the military—we have the ability to change our brains physiologically and psychologically with or without diagnosis of TBI and PTSD. Labels should not limit our brain’s health and do not define our brain’s potential. Mental health conditions are not signs of weakness and do not last a lifetime; they are treatable and can be overcome.

That’s why this Veterans Day, I am asking fellow Americans to commit to shattering the stigmata associated with mental health conditions – in veterans and in all individuals. I encourage all to gain a greater understanding of our greatest asset – our brain– and to help reduce the stigma of TBI, PTSD, and the antiquated notion that the brain can’t improve. Beginning a new, more hopeful national conversation around brain health is one of the best ways to honor veterans and patriots today and in the future.

Mike Rials is a former sergeant in the United States Marine Corps and member of the Center for BrainHealth’s Brain Performance Institute warrior training team. 

Center for BrainHealth

Brain Imaging Reveals Possible Depression Signature in Traumatic Brain Injury

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Approximately half of individuals who experience a traumatic brain injury (TBI) experience depression within a year. Those with TBI and depression are prone to poorer recovery, reductions in cognitive performance, greater functional disability, increased suicide attempts and other social and sexual difficulties. Since depression symptoms vary greatly, teasing apart a diagnosis in the context of traumatic brain injury is often difficult. However, researchers at the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas have identified a potential brain-based biomarker for depressive symptoms that could simplify the process.

The study that published yesterday in Frontiers in Neurology Neurotrauma found that individuals with traumatic brain injury and depression exhibit increased brain connectivity between multiple regions and sub-networks of the brain and the amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for emotional processing, compared to people with minimal depressive symptoms. Researchers further observed differences in brain connectivity patterns that predicted the type of depressive symptoms, specifically whether individuals leaned toward cognitive symptoms (related to thought patterns) or affective symptoms (related to general mood).

“It is very difficult to tell the difference between traumatic brain injury symptoms and depression symptoms,” explained Kihwan Han, Ph.D., study lead author and post doctoral research associate at the Center for BrainHealth. “We are hopeful that our findings that illuminate changes in amygdala connectivity patterns will become a useful tool that will help clinicians objectively diagnose subtypes of depressive symptoms in traumatic brain injury and create individualized treatment plans.”

For the study, researchers analyzed MRI scans of 54 chronic TBI civilians and veterans (31 chronic TBI individuals with mild to severe depressive symptoms plus 23 chronic TBI individuals with minimal depressive symptoms) and compared depressive symptoms using the Beck Depression Inventory-II. Researchers also conducted neuropsychological measures. Individuals with TBI ranged from lower moderate disability to lower good recovery or 5-7 points on the 8-point Extended Glasgow Outcome Scale. Participants were ages 20-60. While all individuals in the TBI group were at least six months post-injury at the time of the study, the average length of time since injury was eight years with no history of any significant, clinically-diagnosed neurological or psychiatric disorders or history of depressive symptoms prior to their TBI. Primary causes of injury included blasts, blunt force trauma, falls, athletic impacts, vehicle accidents or combinations thereof.

Although individuals with depressive symptoms showed an overall increase between various brain regions and the amygdala, individuals who expressed a predominance of cognitive symptoms such as thoughts of guilt, worthlessness, self-dislike or suicidal ideation, demonstrated reduced amygdala connectivity with prefrontal cortices of the default mode and cognitive control networks. Individuals that showed greater depressive affective symptoms, such as crying, loss of interest, indecisiveness and loss of pleasure showed reduced amygdala connectivity with the brain regions of salience (e.g., the insula), attention (e.g., the parietal lobules) and visual networks.

This study is part of a larger research endeavor led by principal investigator Daniel Krawczyk, Ph.D., associate professor of cognitive neuroscience and cognitive psychology at the Center for BrainHealth. The Department of Defense funded study investigates the effects of a strategy-based cognitive training in veterans and civilians who have sustained a traumatic brain injury.

Our initial findings are very encouraging and reveal a pronounced decrease in depressive symptoms and reduction in stress-related symptoms in individuals with traumatic brain injury who participated in the Center for BrainHealth-developed brain training,” said Krawczyk who holds the Debbie and Jim Francis chair at The University of Texas at Dallas. “We look forward to being able provide a more robust picture of how cognitive training may affect behavioral symptoms associated with structural brain change due to injury.”

As part of future work, Han will analyze whether such reductions in depressive and stress-related symptoms after the training are associated with changes in amygdala connectivity.

“While this study is specific to traumatic brain injury, we believe this work will eventually be expanded to benefit the general public,” said Sandra Bond Chapman, Ph.D., Center for BrainHealth founder and chief director. “This could have life-changing benefits for people months and even years after brain injury as well as for individuals affected by depression who have never had a brain injury.”

This work has been supported by Department of Defense CDMRP grants W81XWH-11-2-0194 and W81XWH-11-2-0195 and a grant from the Meadows Foundation.

Center for BrainHealth

Study: How Depressive Thoughts Persevere, Interfere with Memory for People with Depression

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Intrusive, enduring, depressive thoughts are an ever-present part of daily life for people with depression. A first of its kind study from the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas published earlier this year in the Journal of Affective Disorders shows that depressive thoughts are maintained for longer periods of time for people with depressed mood, and this extended durationmay reduce the amount of information that these individuals can hold in their memory. The findings have far-reaching implications for understanding how depression damages memory, as well as how depression develops and persists over the course of an individual’s lifetime.

“People with depression or even healthy people with a depressed mood can be affected by depressive thoughts,” explained Center for BrainHealth principal investigator Bart Rypma, Ph.D., who also holds the Meadows Foundation Chair at UT Dallas. “We have known that negative thoughts tend to last longer for those with depression. However, this study is unique in showing that, these thoughts, triggered from stimuli in the environment, can persist to the point that they hinder a depressed person’s ability to keep their train of thought.”

For the study, researchers recruited 75 university undergraduate students; thirty students were classified as having depressive symptoms and 45 participants were categorized as not exhibiting depressive symptoms. All participants were asked to respond to a sentence featuring depressive thoughts, such as “I am sad,” or “People don’t like me,” or neutral information. They were then asked to remember a string of numbers.

Individuals with depressed mood forgot more number strings than people without depressed mood when responding to a sentence with negative information. People with depressed mood who were given the depressive thought first, remembered 31% fewer number strings, compared to people without depressed mood, and people with depressed mood who were given the number string first.

“We all have a fixed amount of information we can hold in memory at one time,” explained the study’s lead author, Nick Hubbard, a doctoral candidate at the Center for BrainHealth working with Dr. Rypma. “The fact that depressive thoughts do not seem to go away once they enter memory certainly explains why depressed individuals have difficulty concentrating or remembering things in their daily lives. This preoccupation of memory by depressive thoughts might also explain why more positive thoughts are often absent in depression; there simply is not enough space for them.”

The authors suggest that this greater dedication of memory resources to depressive thoughts and consequently, an impoverished ability to hold positive thoughts in memory, might be the key to understanding how depression develops and continues throughout an individual’s lifespan.

“Interventions such as mindfulness-based cognitive therapy are quite successful in empowering depressed people to recognize and better regulate the content of their thoughts,” said Dr. Rypma. “Our goal is to continue to study how such therapeutic approaches can alter the depressed brain and how these alterations might result in better memory and outcomes for persons with depression.”

Support for this study was provided by the Dianne Cash Fellowship award, the Friends of BrainHealth and the Linda and Joel Robuck Distinguished New  Scientist Award.

Center for BrainHealth

Enrich Your Mind: Dean Promotes Rapid Brain Translation

Friday, October 9, 2015

Bert Moore is more than our Dean; he is our visionary leader, humanitarian, and friend. For his enduring commitment and dedication to advancing life-enhancing brain study, the Center for BrainHealth with the UT Regents has established an endowed chair -- the Bert Moore Chair in BrainHealth -- to permanently honor him.

Since 1989, Dean Moore has led the rapid growth and expansion of the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences (BBS) at The University of Texas at Dallas, of which the Center for BrainHealth is part. His commitment to ensuring that students profit from the research underway while also encouraging innovation to expand the range of brain related studies has led to a dramatic increase in interest in neuroscience and put UT Dallas on the map as a leader in the field.

During his 26-year tenure, the number of BBS students has risen from 500 to more than 2,400, partnerships between University departments have flourished and the development and expansion of existing and new brain burgeoning hubs of innovation have taken root.

“For all my years as a professor, Dean Moore has been an anchor, a super-powering fuel, and a calm leader in the clamor and in the consensus,” said Sandra Bond Chapman, Ph.D., founder and chief director at the Center for BrainHealth and Dee Wyly Distinguished University Professor in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences at UT Dallas.

“He encouraged, mentored, critiqued and inspired every stage of establishing the Center for BrainHealth from the glimmer of the first idea to the fruition of its doors opening to its futuristic vision of brain health for all.”

Chapman continued, “Dean Moore cheers us on to achieve the most we can to educate future brain scientists and clinicians, to break new ground in brain health discoveries, but most of all to put a human face as the pivotal driver behind our research endeavors – to improve lives.”

“So much of what is learned in brain science stays in science,” said Dr. Bert Moore. “It’s rare for practitioners and scientists to work in conjunction, translating the latest advances into programs to improve the lives of individuals. That’s what makes the Center for BrainHealth unique.”

“Dean Moore possesses the unique qualities of being a great mentor, visionary leader and one of the kindest human beings I have ever met,” said John Hart, Jr., M.D., medical science director at the Center for BrainHealth and Jane and Bud Smith Distinguished Chair. “I have learned more about being a better person, leader and teacher from him than any other mentor I have had. I am privileged to call him my friend.”

Dean Moore stepped down as dean September 1. With the permanent endowed chair in his name at the Center for BrainHealth, his legacy will inspire the explorers and innovators in the field for generations to come.

“For his wise counsel, innovative spirit and steadfast support, we are forever grateful,” said Chapman. “We will deeply miss him as Dean, but his footprint is indelibly ingrained into our DNA.”

Center for BrainHealth

'Friends of BrainHealth' Awards Research Grants to Distinguished New Scientists, Raises $298,000

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Friends of BrainHealth, a circle of donors whose significant financial contributions directly impact scientific study at the Center for BrainHealth, has raised more than $298,000 this year to advance brain research and give young scientists an opportunity to design and lead their own research studies under the tutelage of UT Dallas faculty.

Graduate students, doctoral candidates and postdoctoral fellows at the Center for BrainHealth compete for $25,000 research grants that are awarded at the annual Friends of BrainHealth Scientist Selection Luncheon. This year, the luncheon was held October 7 at Dallas Country Club and sponsored by Visionary Friends Katherine and Bob Penn.

2015 Friends of BrainHealth co-chairs Lucy and Lindsay Billingsley led the charge because they felt “the greatest contribution that we can each make to the world is to leverage innovative thinking.” The fundraising year supported five awards to exceptional neuroscientists who are already making their mark on the field of brain science at this early point in their careers. Their work will contribute to the foundation of future medical and scientific breakthroughs and advance the Center for BrainHealth’s mission to understand, protect and heal the brain.

Linda and Joel Robuck joined Friends of BrainHealth at the Visionary Friend Level for the fourth year in a row and chose to further a study that investigates the biological causes of social impairments.

“We truly believe Adam’s work to augment the complex nature and understanding of social impairments, in an effort to enhance the lives of the individuals and families affected, is deeply paramount to the future of brain science, this community and our nation as a whole,” said Joel Robuck. 

Under the guidance of faculty member Dr. Daniel Krawczyk, Adam Teed will investigate the possibility that oxytocin and vasopressin, two hormones that have been scientifically implicated in empathizing with others, might have a broad influence on social motivation. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), Adam aims to reveal the patterns of brain activity associated with social preferences and values, opening the doors for new treatments based on hormonal systems to increase quality of life for those that suffer from social dysfunctions.

Katherine and Bob Penn awarded their second $25,000 grant to Dr. Jenny Meier whose research will investigate adding two elements to the Center for BrainHealth’s scientifically validated strategy-based cognitive training program called Strategic Memory Advanced Reasoning Training (SMART). Her work, under the direction of the Center’s founder and chief director, Dr. Sandra Bond Chapman, will explore whether combining a pharmaceutical dopaminergic agent or transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) with SMART will enhance gains in innovative thinking and psychological health to a greater degree than traditional SMART with veterans who have sustained brain injuries.

“Katherine and I are excited to back Dr. Jenny Meier in her ongoing effort to enhance both the critical thinking and the psychological health of our nation’s warriors,” said Bob Penn. “The Center for BrainHealth’s SMART program has done so much for this special group of heroes and heroines and it’s wonderful to think that there may be ways to make it even more effective with pharmaceuticals or direct current stimulation!”

The Sapphire Foundation supported Dr. Hsueh-Sheng Chiang, who was trained under BrainHealth’s medical science director Dr. John Hart Jr., and his proposal to attempt to identify a potential brain biomarker that could offer a more complete picture of who is most at risk for Mild Cognitive Impairment, the preclinical stage of Alzheimer’s disease.

Kate Juett, chair of the Sapphire Foundation, Inc. board of directors said, “Sapphire feels most fortunate to be able to support Dr. Chiang in this significant research project. He is very accomplished in this area and this research will hopefully foster more insight into this devastating disease that continues to affect so many of our families, friends and our society.”

Friends of BrainHealth members listened to research proposal presentations from three finalists at the annual luncheon and voted to award the final grant.

Matthew Kmiecik, a doctoral student of Dr. Krawczyk and first time finalist, was selected as the member favorite for his study that will utilize EEG brain wave measurements to examine the changeability of automatic, pre-conscious processes that inform later, higher-level conscious processes in individuals who have suffered a traumatic brain injury.

After the luncheon an anonymous donor awarded a grant to finalist Dr. Kihwan Han, a member of Dr. Krawczyk’s lab, for his research that seeks to create a method to objectively measure brain injury recovery using cortical thickness as a measure of cognitive health.

“It is always brain-inspiring to be in the presence of a magnanimous, philanthropic community that supports young scientists and their leading-edge approaches to scientific discovery,” said Chapman. “Because of Dallas visionary donors over the years, our doctoral students and research fellows have been able to conduct and publish groundbreaking studies in multiple sclerosis, traumatic brain injury, depression and Alzheimer’s disease. We are beholden to each BrainHealth Friend for their selfless generosity and dedication to our mission.”

The Friends of BrainHealth kicks off their 2016 campaign November 1. Incoming co-chairs are Jane Smith and Barbara Durham. Pam Borders and Kay Hammond will serve as membership chairs alongside Anne MacDonald and Nena Oshman, serving as co-chairs of Junior Friends, supporters under the age of 40. Friends of BrainHealth offers seven membership levels: Junior Friend ($250) Companion ($500), Friend ($1,000), Special Friend ($2,500), Esteemed Friend ($5,000), Distinguished Friend ($10,000), and Visionary Friend ($25,000). To join, visit www.centerforbrainhealth.org/friends.

Center for BrainHealth

Center for BrainHealth Breaks Ground on New Brain Performance Institute

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

On Oct. 14, the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas breaks ground on its Brain Performance Institute in Dallas’ growing Medical District. Slated to open its doors in the spring of 2017, the iconically designed 62,000-square-foot facility will make available to the public scientifically validated programs and assessments that enhance individual brain performance and health.

“Many people don’t think about their brain until it is injured, diseased or aging. But just like physical health, almost everyone can improve brain health,” said Sandra Bond Chapman, Ph.D., Center for BrainHealth founder and chief director. “The Brain Performance Institute will be the first facility of its kind – not an acute treatment center, but a place where healthy people as well as people who have sustained a brain injury or disease have the opportunity to help their brain become healthier, more efficient and less stressed.”

Although construction is just beginning, the Institute has served more than 40,000 people in the last two years from inside the walls of the Center for BrainHealth and via mobile training teams. Clients range from professional athletes and executives to military veterans and teens. Some programs are covered by private philanthropy and are offered at no cost to military service members, veterans, and military spouses and caregivers, as well as students in more than 100 middle schools across the country.

“This facility will house state-of-the-art imaging, stimulating learning platforms and community-focused events featuring experts from around the world,” said Eric Bennett, Brain Performance Institute executive director. “Having our own facility will allow us to reach so many more people. Initial offerings will include BrainHealth Physicals, virtual reality training for teens and adults on the autism spectrum, as well an array high performance brain training programs.”

Page, a leading international architecture and engineering firm based in Dallas, drew inspiration for the building’s design from human brain anatomy, specifically the part of the brain responsible for higher-order thinking, the brain’s frontal lobes. Brain training rooms, event spaces and other clinical offerings will be housed in an elliptical, three-story, glass structure connected to a more traditional rectangular building filled with administrative offices.

“Bringing the latest in new brain research adds a whole new dimension to health care,” said UT System Chancellor William H. McRaven. “The Center for BrainHealth with its Brain Performance Institute is on a trajectory to make significant advancements in the way we care for our brain health as individuals nationally and globally. We are proud to be able to showcase this translational research model as another defining asset to the UT System.”

The Brain Performance Institute was established in 2013 as a delivery system for the programs and resources developed and tested by the team of neuroscientists, clinicians and medical doctors at the Center for BrainHealth. Center for BrainHealth has more than 75 funded, ongoing research studies ranging from healthy aging and teen reasoning to autism, Alzheimer’s and bipolar disorder, as well as concussions, post-traumatic stress disorder and addiction.

“It is exciting to know that this is just the beginning. Advancements in brain health are growing rapidly,” said Debbie Francis, Center for BrainHealth advisory board chair. “We cannot even imagine the types of treatments and programs that will be offered 10 years, even five years, from now.” 

The groundbreaking occurs with more than $55 million raised towards an $82 million campaign that supports the building, programs and an endowment. More than 50 individuals, foundations and corporations have pledged gifts that range from $100,000 to upwards of $1 million. Generous supporters include Lyda Hill, whose $2 million contribution jump-started the first Brain Performance Institute warrior program, Debbie and John Tolleson of Tolleson Wealth ManagementThe Sarah and Ross PerotJr., FoundationHamon Charitable FoundationThe Simmons Family FoundationThe Rees-Jones FoundationKathryn “Kim” Hiett JordanEmy Lou and Jerry Baldridge; Linda and Joel RobuckJane and Bud Smith; the late Joel WilliamsJr., and Linda Evans in honor of Betty Lu WilliamsHighland Capital ManagementThe Hoglund Foundation;RGK FoundationHillcrest FoundationThe Rouse Family FoundationRowling FoundationPlainsCapital BankThe Dallas Foundation;Communities Foundation of TexasThe Eugene McDermott FoundationLucy and Henry Billingsley; and Ray W. Washburne.

“We must continue to be transformative as incremental or minimal gains are no longer acceptable,” Chapman said. “We will engage the best minds across the globe and continue to work relentlessly toward the noble goal of better brain health for all.”

Click here to learn more about the Brain Performance Institute

Center for BrainHealth

BrainHealth's Brain Performance Institute Partners with Texas Tech Law

Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas-Dallas and the Texas Tech School of Law announced their collaboration in a high performance brain training program called SMART – Strategic Memory Advanced Reasoning Training at the School of Law's orientation earlier this month.

The program will provide approximately 180 first-year law students with nine cognitive strategies allowing them to maximize performance thanks to methods proven effective by more than 30 years of neuroscience research. The School of Law is the first law school partner with the center. SMART has helped more than 40,000 people to date across the U.S., ranging in age from middle-school students to senior citizens. By participating in SMART, law school dean Darby Dickerson hopes to provide Texas Tech law students with a skill set that will help them succeed in law school, their careers and their lives.

“When I saw the scientific evidence supporting the SMART program and saw the before-and-after brain scans of executives and other high-performers who’ve participated in the program, I knew I wanted to provide the training to our students,” Dickerson said. “I truly believe these skills, if implemented, can help them navigate a rigorous curriculum, perform better on the bar exam, be creative problem-solvers and reduce stress. To me, it seemed like a missing piece of a great legal education.”

The idea behind introducing SMART to first-year law students came from a law school graduate. Chad West, an Army veteran who earned his law degree from Texas Tech in 2006, completed the program and contacted Dickerson, encouraging her to implement it with her students.

“SMART completely revolutionized my law practice,” said West, who owns a practice in Dallas. “As a law student, and even as a lawyer, I had a hard time staying focused on the task at hand and processing the really important information once I read through massive amounts of texts. SMART taught me how to stay focused and how to hone in on the legal issues behind all of the endless verbiage our fellow lawyers bombard us with.”

According to the Center for BrainHealth, SMART focuses on the brain’s frontal lobe where humans process planning, judgment, decision-making, problem-solving, emotional regulation and other cognitive functions. SMART trains individuals through a strategy-based approach to more effectively assimilate, manage and utilize information and skills to strengthen overall brain function.

Training methods are based on clinical trials that compared strategy-training programs to memory training in a wide population, ranging from healthy older adults to those with brain injury or risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

The students learned higher-order cognitive strategies – strategic attention, integrated reasoning and innovation – that can be applied to every day life. Individuals were also encouraged and equipped with methods to adopt healthy brain habits.

“Our brains are the one indispensable tool we need throughout life,” said Sandra Bond Chapman, founder and chief director of the Center for BrainHealth. “Up-and-coming law students at Texas Tech will need to be innovative on the spot, absorb dense and complex information and make quick decisions that will impact the future of our legal system. Through our partnership, students will be armed with the strategic toolkit to become dynamic, flexible thinkers to thrive in the academic environment and for their future careers.”

The students are excited to implement SMART to help them maintain focus and become not only better students, but eventually, better lawyers. First-year law student Taylor Guerrero said she left the seminar with strategies that will help her during her first year. “Law school is a daunting opponent for any student, so it’s best to go in prepared,” added incoming law student Lianette Gonzalez. “The Brain Performance Institute counselors teach you how to see the big picture while managing your time and stress. I left their seminars with an entirely new outlook.”

“In learning the fundamental limits of certain brain functions, we can begin to maximize their potential and efficiency,” said incoming law student Andrew Tingan. “The cognitive techniques we’ve explored thus far will pay dividends throughout our law school education and well into our careers as future practitioners.”

Center for BrainHealth

Study Finds Nicotine Changes Marijuana’s Effect on the Brain

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

How scientists study the effects of marijuana on the brain is changing. Until recently marijuana research largely excluded tobacco users from its participant pool, but scientists at the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas have found reason to abandon this practice, uncovering significant differences in the brains of individuals who use both tobacco and marijuana and the brains of those who only use marijuana.

In a study that appears online in the journal­­­ Behavioural Brain Research, scientists report an association between smaller hippocampal brain volume and marijuana use. Although the size of the hippocampus, an area of the brain associated with memory and learning, is significantly smaller in both the marijuana group and marijuana plus tobacco group compared to non-using controls and individuals who use tobacco exclusively, the relationship to memory performance is unique.

Hippocampal size of nonusers reflects a direct relationship to memory function; the smaller the hippocampus, the poorer the memory function. Individuals who use marijuana and tobacco show an inverse relationship, i.e., the smaller the hippocampus size, the greater the memory function. Furthermore, the number of nicotine cigarettes smoked per day in the marijuana and nicotine using group appears to be related to the severity of hippocampal shrinkage. The greater the number of cigarettes smoked per day, the smaller the hippocampal volume and the greater the memory performance. There were no significant associations between hippocampal size and memory performance in individuals who only use tobacco or only use marijuana.

“Approximately 70% of individuals who use marijuana also use tobacco,” explained Francesca Filbey, Ph.D., the study’s principal investigator and Director of Cognitive Neuroscience of Addictive Behaviors at the Center for BrainHealth. “Our findings exemplify why the effects of marijuana on the brain may not generalize to the vast majority of the marijuana using population, because most studies do not account for tobacco use. This study is one of the first to tease apart the unique effects of each substance on the brain as well as their combined effects.”

Dr. Filbey’s research team used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to examine the hippocampus; an area of the brain that is known to have altered size and shape in association with chronic marijuana use. Participants completed a substance use history assessment and neuropsychological tests three days prior to an MRI head scan. The team compared four groups: nonusers (individuals who have not had any marijuana or tobacco in the past three months), chronic marijuana users (individuals who use marijuana at least four times per week), frequent nicotine users (10 or more times daily) and chronic marijuana plus frequent nicotine users (at least four marijuana uses per week and 10 or more nicotine uses per day).

“We have always known that each substance is associated with effects on the brain and hypothesized that their interaction may not simply be a linear relationship. Our findings confirm that the interaction between marijuana and nicotine is indeed much more complicated due to the different mechanisms at play,” said Filbey. “Future studies need to address these compounding effects of substances.”

She continued, “The combined use of marijuana and tobacco is highly prevalent. For instance, a ‘blunt’ is wrapped in tobacco leaf. A ‘spliff’ is a joint rolled with tobacco.  We really need to understand how the combined use changes the brain to really understand its effects on memory function and behavior.”

The National Institute on Drug Abuse/National Institutes of Health grants (K01 DA021632, FMF) provided funding for this study.

Center for BrainHealth

Center for BrainHealth's Brain Performance Institute, Operation Homefront partner to empower better brain health for America’s warriors

Monday, July 20, 2015

The Center for BrainHealth’s Brain Performance Institute at The University of Texas at Dallas has united with Operation Homefront, a leading national military family and veteran support organization, to empower service members, veterans, military spouses and caregivers to optimize their brain health with an effective, evidence-based high performance brain training program called SMART. A group of 15 veterans and three Operation Homefront staff will travel from across the country to participate in the program July 21-23 in Dallas.

Based on more than 30 years of neuroscience research, the SMART program focuses on the brain’s intricate frontal lobe networks that govern planning, judgment, decision-making, problem-solving, emotional regulation and other cognitive functions. Through the training, warriors and their loved ones are equipped with strategies to achieve maximum brain performance, minimize stress and improve productivity. Program outcome measures among warriors show improvement in trained areas of cognitive performance and real-life benefits including improvement in maintaining a home, managing finances and regulating mood.

Recently published Center for BrainHealth research funded by the Department of Defense shows the training significantly improves the cognitive, neurological and psychological health of veterans who have sustained a traumatic brain injury, including significant reductions in depressive and posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms.

The veterans participating in the program this week are all recipients of assistance from Operation Homefront. Most are residents in the organization’s “Village” rent-free transitional housing communities in San Diego, Calif., Gaithersburg, Md. and San Antonio, Tx. Through a comprehensive package of individualized family support and financial planning services tailored to wounded warriors leaving the military, the program enables families to heal together while bridging the gap between military pay and veteran benefits.

“Uniting with Operation Homefront, which provides warriors and their families with direct services in the areas of housing, financial assistance and recovery support, is synergistic to our work,” said Eric Bennett, executive director of the Center for BrainHealth’s Brain Performance Institute. “Adding our high performance brain training program to the already successful programs offered by Operation Homefront will give veteran participants an additional set of tools to build a stronger, more resilient brains before, during and after their transition from military to civilian life.”

“We applaud what the Brain Performance Institute and its generous supporters are doing to provide our veterans with cognitive training that holds the promise for greater stability in their lives,” said retired Air Force Brig. Gen. John I. Pray, Jr., president and CEO, Operation Homefront. “Providing valued programs and services that help build strong, stable and secure military families is what we do, making the work of the Brain Performance Institute and Center for BrainHealth a natural fit for us and those who we’re honored to serve.”

Through partnerships with La Quinta Inns & Suites and Southwest Airlines®, both steadfast supporters of the military community, participants will be provided with travel, lodging and training space accommodations at no cost.

Since its founding in 2013, the Center for BrainHealth’s Brain Performance Institute has reached more than 1,100 service members, veterans and military spouses and caregivers in more than 15 states. This top-tier training is made available at no cost to those who have served our nation and their loved ones who have endured sacrifice alongside them through the generous support of the state of Texas, private philanthropists and corporate sponsors.

Center for BrainHealth

Affordable, Non-Invasive Test May Detect Who is Most at Risk for Alzheimer's

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Individuals with amnestic mild cognitive impairment (aMCI) are at twice the risk of others in their age group of progressing to Alzheimer’s disease. Although no conclusive test exists to predict who will develop Alzheimer’s, new research from the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas is attempting to identify a potential biomarker that could offer a more complete picture of who is most at risk.

In a study published in the latest edition of the Journal ofAlzheimer’s Disease, researchers identify a specific variation in brain waves of individuals with aMCI. The findings depict a pattern of delayed neural activity that is directly related to the severity of impairment in cognitive performance on a word finding task and may indicate an early dysfunction of progression to Alzheimer’s disease.

Impaired episodic memory, the ability to retain new memories such as recent conversations, events, or upcoming appointments, is a hallmark symptom of Alzheimer’s disease. While mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is the recognized clinical state between healthy aging and Alzheimer’s disease, aMCI is a specific type characterized by deficits in episodic memory.

The potential diagnostic approach utilizes electroencephalogram (EEG) technology, a more affordable and non-invasive alternative to other available methods such as MRI or a spinal tap, to measure neural responses while participants access semantic memory or long-term memory representative of general knowledge and concepts.

“This is a promising start at looking at a group of MCI patients. The long-term goal is whether this can be applied to individual patients one day,” says study principal investigator John Hart, Jr., M.D., Medical Science Director at the Center for BrainHealth and Distinguished Chair in Neuroscience and the Jane and Bud Smith Distinguished Chair.

Study findings show that individuals with aMCI performed less accurately and more slowly on the semantic memory task than healthy controls. EEG results illustrated delayed brain activity during the task. When researchers took into account performance on an episodic memory evaluation, they found that the worse the episodic memory performance, the greater the delayed activity that appeared in the EEG.

For the study, 16 individuals with aMCI and 17 age matched healthy controls were monitored by EEG and presented with pairs of words that either described features of an object or were randomly paired. For example, ‘humps’ and ‘desert’ would evoke the memory of the word ‘camel’, but ‘humps’ and ‘monitor’ would be considered a random pair. Participants were then asked to indicate by button press whether the pair conjured any particular object memory or not.

“The majority of EEG research in aMCI has focused on looking at the mind ‘at rest’, but we are looking at the brain while it is engaged in the object memory retrieval process. We think this might be more sensitive and more specific in pointing out certain cognitive deficits, in this case semantic memory, than other non-EEG methods available, because EEG reflects direct neural activity,” explained study lead author Hsueh-Sheng Chiang, M.D., Ph.D., a research doctoral student at the Center for BrainHealth at the time of the study who is now a post-doctoral fellow at UT Southwestern Medical Center. “This protocol could potentially provide complementary information for diagnosis of pre-dementia stages including MCI and identify neural changes that can occur in cases of Alzheimer’s disease.”

Chiang and Hart will continue to validate this prospective diagnostic tool that has the potential to help identify or predict those who may progress to Alzheimer’s disease. The research team plans to recruit more participants and to follow them longitudinally in combination with other objective measures to examine the potentiality of applying this EEG tool as an early disease marker.

Raksha Anand Mudar, Ph.D., from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign was a principal investigator, and researchers from UT Southwestern Medical Center and John Hopkins University School of Medicine also co-authored the article.

This work was made possible by grants from the National Institute of Health (RCI-AG035954, P30AG12300), the RGK foundation, Alzheimer’s Association New Investigator Grant (NIRG-11-173815) the Berman Research Initiative at the Center for BrainHealth, and the Linda and Joel Robuck Friends of BrainHealth New Scientist Award.

Center for BrainHealth

New Center for BrainHealth Faculty Member Aims to Tackle Neural Mechanisms of Addiction and Mental Health

Monday, July 13, 2015

Nicotine, the primary addictive substance in tobacco, stimulates neural pathways in the reward circuitry of the brain. However, pure biochemical explanations are not sufficient to account for difficulty in quitting and remaining smoke-free. Xiaosi Gu, Ph.D. recently joined the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas as an assistant professor to further research into cognitive control and decision-making, with a particular focus on abnormal cognitive processes in addiction.

Dr. Gu’s most recent work, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), suggested that belief is as important as biochemistry in addiction.

“In essence, what the study showed was the power of the cognitive system to override the effects of neuroactive drugs,” said Gu. “This evidence implies that what an individual thinks about the act of engaging with a drug and its subsequent effect on the brain and body has major implications in how the brain responds to the drug.”

Gu’s research will focus on poor decision-making and the loss of control, often considered hallmarks of addiction as well as many other psychiatric conditions, by using functional MRI in combination with neuroeconomic tasks to measure neural and behavioral responses.

“My ultimate dream is to use neurobiological information to inform individualized therapy,” Gu explained. “Compared to physical diseases, mental disorders have much more heterogeneity and complexity. If you have heart disease or are diagnosed with lung cancer, physicians will follow a treatment plan based on biology. For psychiatric disorders, we don’t have anything like that yet. Diagnoses are made based on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), which is a subjective analysis, not an objective one. That gap in knowledge is what I am hoping to fill through my research – to use much more formal objective assessments based on deep cognitive and neural phenotypes to help with accurate diagnosis.”

With a keen interest in computational approaches to psychiatry, Gu received her Ph.D. in neuroscience from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City and spent the last four years as a research fellow at the Virginia Tech Research Institute in Roanoke, Virginia and the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at University College London in London, UK. During her time in London, Gu and colleagues set up the world’s first course on computational psychiatry, which aims to bring together experts in neuroscience, psychiatry, decision sciences and computational modeling to define problems quantitatively in psychiatric disorders, and to train the next generation of scientists and clinicians that wish to apply these models to modern diagnosis and treatment strategies.

“Dr. Gucompleted her training with some of the foremost neuroimaging experts in the world, Drs. Read Montague and Karl Friston,” said Dr. John Hart, Jr., medical science director at the Center for BrainHealth and Distinguished Chair in Neuroscience and the Jane and Bud Smith Distinguished Chair at UT Dallas. “There are only three other computational psychiatry laboratories across the globe and the Center for BrainHealth at UT Dallas will be home to the second computational psychiatry lab in the U.S led by Dr. Gu. Her work towards developing a program behind emotional processing and decision-making in health and disease will assuredly make her a leader in this field in a short period of time.”

“We are very pleased to have Dr. Gu join our faculty,” said Dr. Bert Moore, dean of UT Dallas’ School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences and Aage and Margareta Moller Distinguished Professor. “She brings a varied array of interests and research efforts investigating such diverse domains as the underpinnings of empathy and brain mechanisms involved in addiction. Utilizing assorted methodologies, coupled with sophisticated computational analyses, Xiaosi adds important strengths to the School and Center and also opportunities for collaborations and student training.”

What is computational psychiatry?

Computational psychiatry is a new interdisciplinary field which seeks to characterize mental disorders in terms of aberrant computations at multiple scales. In recent years the field of human neuroscience, particularly functional neuroimaging, has begun to address the underlying neurobiology of changes in brain function related to psychiatric disease. This effort has produced some exciting early discoveries, but it has also highlighted the need for computational models that can bridge the explanatory gap between pathophysiology and psychopathology. The expertise and quantitative tools required to address this gap exist only across disciplines, combining skills and knowledge from investigators and clinicians that are jointly interested in solving problems of mental health. 

Center for BrainHealth

Study Reveals Brain Network Responsible for Cognitive Changes in Multiple Sclerosis

Monday, July 6, 2015

An estimated 2.3 million individuals are living with multiple sclerosis (MS) worldwide. Approximately half of all individuals with MS experience changes in cognition such as impaired concentration, attention, memory, and judgment. The underlying brain basis for these deleterious effects has been largely elusive. New findings published yesterday in Neuropsychology reveal that decreased connectivity between network-specific brain regions are to blame for the central deficit common to the various cognitive changes associated with MS, slowed cognitive speed.

In the first study of its kind, researchers at the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas and The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center found that, compared to healthy controls, individuals with MS exhibit weaker brain connections between the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and posterior brain regions. The change amounts to a breakdown in communication between the part of the brain responsible for executing goal-directed thought and action and the regions responsible for carrying out tasks related to cognitive speed such as visual processing, motor execution, and object recognition. The researchers believe that the diminished connections are likely the result of decreased white matter surrounding the neurons in the brain.

“Our study is the first to really zero in on the physiology of cognitive speed, the central cognitive deficit in MS,” explained Center for BrainHealth principal investigator Bart Rypma, Ph.D., who also holds the Meadows Foundation Chair at UT Dallas. “While white matter is essential to efficient network communication, white matter degradation is symptomatic of MS. This study really highlights how tightly coupled connectivity is to performance and illuminates the larger, emerging picture of white matter’s importance in human cognitive performance.”

Collaborating with Elliot Frohman, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Multiple Sclerosis Program and Clinical Center at UT Southwestern, the study recruited 29 participants with relapsing-remitting MS and 23 age- and sex- matched healthy controls. Participants underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while completing a measure of cognitive processing speed. Participants were given 4 seconds to view a nine-item key of number and symbol pairs (for example ‘+’ above the number 3) and one number-symbol pair probe. Participants were asked to indicate with a left or right thumb button press whether or not the probe appeared in the key.

While accuracy was similar for both healthy controls and individuals with MS, response times for individuals with MS were much slower. Analysis of the fMRI data revealed that while completing this measure, MS patients showed weaker functional connections with dorsolateral prefrontal cortex.

“These findings reveal a diffuse pattern of disconnectivity with executive areas of the brain,” explained the study’s lead author, Nicholas Hubbard, a doctoral candidate at the Center for BrainHealth working with Dr. Rypma. “Importantly, these decreases in connectivity predicted MS-related cognitive slowing both in and out of the fMRI environment suggesting that these results were not specific to our task, but rather were able to generalize to other situations where cognitive speed is required.”

This research supports the need for therapies that target white matter structures and white matter proliferation. Rypma and Hubbard are currently conducting research to further explore the physiology of white matter to better understand cognitive speed reductions not only in MS, but also in healthy aging individuals.

The National Multiple Sclerosis Society (RG4453A1/2) and the Friends of BrainHealth Linda and Joel Robuck Distinguished New Scientist award provided funding for this study.

Center for BrainHealth

Strategy-based brain training induces lasting brain, cognitive and mental health gains for veterans, civilians with brain injury, Center for BrainHealth study finds

Thursday, May 28, 2015

In the first study of its kind, veterans and civilians with traumatic brain injury showed improved cognitive performance and psychological and neural health following strategy-based cognitive training. The Department of Defense-funded study, published this week in Neuropsychological Rehabilitation, was conducted by an interdisciplinary team of cognitive neuroscientists, rehabilitation specialists, and neuroimaging experts from the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas.

“Veterans and others who have sustained traumatic brain injuries often experience persistent cognitive and psychological difficulties, such as depression and/or post traumatic stress disorder, which hinder day-to-day life activities,” said Dr. Sandra Bond Chapman, founder and chief director of the Center for BrainHealth and principal investigator on the study. “This study shows that strategy-based cognitive training focusing on abstract and innovative thinking not only improves cognitive areas critical to everyday life success but also improves brain blood flow to key regions of the brain and lessens depressive and stress-related symptoms.”

The study examined 60 individuals between the ages of 19 and 65 years of age who had sustained at least one traumatic brain injury previously. More than two-thirds of the participants had sustained a traumatic brain injury more than 10 years ago.

The participants were randomly assigned to either receive strategy-based brain training focused on complex abstraction and innovation or an educational, information-based program about how the brain works. Both programs offered 18 hours of training that was completed in 12 group sessions over an 8-week timeframe. All participants underwent extensive cognitive assessments and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). The researchers also measured symptoms of depression and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

The group who received the strategy-based cognitive training improved complex abstraction scores by more than 20% and memory scores by more than 30%. Participants in the strategy-based cognitive training group also reported 60% reduction in depressive symptoms as well as almost 40% reduction in symptoms related to post traumatic stress disorder. Regional brain blood flow to the frontal lobe, anterior cingulate and precuneus was also found to increase significantly following the strategy-based training as compared to the active comparison group.

“Previously, reduction in precuneus blood flow has been linked to severity of traumatic brain injury and symptoms of PTSD,” said Dr. Daniel Krawczyk, associate professor of cognitive neuroscience and cognitive psychology at the Center for BrainHealth and principal investigator on the study.

“Our results show that following the strategy-based training, blood flow increased more than 25% to this region, implying the brain is undergoing changes suggestive of improved neural health. Enhanced neural health of the frontal region has been associated with increased abstract thinking, the anterior cingulate to superior cognitive performance, and the precuneus to emotional regulation of stress and severity of brain injury symptoms,” said Krawczyk, who holds the Debbie and Jim Francis chair at The University of Texas at Dallas.

Researchers suggest that the improved abstract thinking and improved executive functioning appear to help individuals to down-regulate emotional reactions, resulting in better mood and fewer stress symptoms.

“Our research suggests that interventions that improve frontal lobe reasoning, induces positive brain changes that support higher-order thinking and down-regulation of negative emotion. The converging patterns identified biological validity for the cognitive and mental health improvement,” said Chapman, who holds the Dee Wyly Distinguished University Chair at The University of Texas at Dallas. “The cognitive, psychological and brain blood flow benefits continued to be realized three to four months following training, suggesting that participants continued to improve after the training ended.”

She continued, “The benefits of the strategy based training were experienced months and years after injury suggesting that brain injuries should be treated more like a chronic health condition rather than a single short-term event.”

This study received funding from the US Department of Defense (DOD) Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs (CDMRP) (Award W81XWH-11-2-0194) and (Award W81XWH-11-2-01945). Additional supporters named in the study included the Lyda Hill Foundation, the Meadows Foundation, and the Dee Wyly Endowed Chair fund.

Center for BrainHealth

Study of former NFL players finds loss of consciousness with concussion may lead to cognitive change

Monday, May 18, 2015

A study of former National Football League players led by neurologists and neuropsychologists at the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas and The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center has found cognitive and structural brain changes in athletes with a history of concussion who experienced loss of consciousness. 

Researchers say their novel study, published online today in JAMA Neurology, identified, for the first time, a correlation between concussion severity, hippocampal volume and memory performance. Results show the hippocampus, a part of the brain involved in memory, was found to be smaller in the aging NFL players who had memory complaints and who experienced loss of consciousness concussions as compared to a control group of men of similar age and education. The ex-NFL players were also found to have lower verbal memory performance.

"This is a preliminary study, and there is much more to be learned in the area of concussion and cognitive aging," said Dr. Munro Cullum, Professor of Psychiatry and Neurology and Neurotherapeutics at UT Southwestern, a co-author of the study. "While we found that aging individuals with a history of concussion and loss of consciousness showed smaller hippocampal volumes and lower memory test scores, the good news is that we did not detect a similar relationship among subjects with a history of concussion that did not involve loss of consciousness, which represents the vast majority of concussions.”

In the study starting in 2010, 28 ex-NFL players, ranging in age from 36 to 79, underwent structural Magnetic Resonance Imaging and detailed neurologic and neuropsychological assessments. Researchers also gathered detailed retrospective histories of concussion experiences. Twenty-one healthy men of similar age, educational level, and intelligence with no history of concussion or professional football experience served as control subjects. Study authors found that after age 63, athletes who reported a loss of consciousness concussion were significantly more likely to have Mild Cognitive Impairment, a preclinical stage of Alzheimer’s disease.

“We know that traumatic brain injury can negatively affect memory and has also been reported as a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias,” said Dr. John Hart, medical science director at the Center for BrainHealth and study co-author. “What we have not known before is how loss of consciousness affects brain function longitudinally. While the sample size for this study was small, it does illustrate the need for continual monitoring of athletes following a concussion.”

Other researchers on the study included Dr. Jeremy Strain, Dr. Nyaz Didehbani and Heather Conover all of UT Dallas; Dr. Kyle Womack and Dr. Jeffery Spence, who hold appointments at both UT Dallas and UT Southwestern; and Dr. Michael A. Kraut, who holds appointments at both Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and UT Dallas.

The study was supported by the Center for BrianHealth’s Institute for Athletes and the National Institute on Aging.

Center for BrainHealth

Brain Performance Institute Partnership Furthers Restoration of Memorial Day's True Meaning

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Memorial Day. Many Americans celebrate this national holiday as an extended weekend with backyard barbeques and a time for discounted shopping at their favorite stores. One organization, Carry The Load, is on a mission to restore the true meaning of Memorial Day with opportunities for all Americans to honor and remember the sacrifices of our nation’s military and first responders. The Center for BrainHealth’s Brain Performance Institute is honored to be a nonprofit partner of Carry The Load for a second consecutive year and will proudly participate in the Carry The Load Dallas Memorial March Sunday May 24 and Monday May 25.

“At the Brain Performance Institute, we recognize and celebrate the sacrifices of our nation’s heroes each and every day and are thrilled about the opportunity to partner with Carry The Load again this year, uniting our efforts to reach the entire network of military service members, veterans, and first responders across the nation,” said Eric Bennett, Brain Performance Institute executive director.

In addition to hosting a national relay that spans from the United States Military Academy in West Point, NY along the East Coast to Dallas, and City Rallies across the nation, Carry The Load raises funds to support seven national nonprofit organizations and nine local nonprofits in Texas. Click here to see the full list of beneficiaries.

More than 800 service members, veterans, military spouses and caregivers, and first responders have participated in our high performance brain training programs as a result of partnerships like Carry The Load. “Our mission this year, and every year until we’ve reached as many as we can, is to continue delivering this scientifically validated program to those who have voluntarily endured service and sacrifice,” said Chris Talcott, Brain Performance Institute deputy director and retired U.S. Army Colonel. "The strategies we provide in our programs maximize brain performance, minimize stress and improve productivity, instilling healthier brains, healthier families and ultimately, a healthier nation.”

“We are honored to have the Brain Performance Institute as a Dallas Non-Profit Partner again this year,” said Stephen Holley, Carry The Load co-founder and former U.S. Navy SEAL. “The Brain Performance Institute’s mission to arm our nation's heroes with the tools to achieve successful, fulfilling lives by optimizing brain performance through effective, evidence-based programs is so important in the rehabilitation and transition from active duty to civilian life. The opportunity for Carry The Load to provide support to further this mission is something we are excited to be a part of for another year.”

During the Dallas Memorial March, the Center for BrainHealth and Brain Performance Institute will “carry” the ten warriors on staff at both organizations, and the more than 800 service members, veterans, military spouses and caregivers, and first responders who have benefitted from our high performance brain training programs. If you are interested in joining our team, please register here.

Who are you carrying?

Center for BrainHealth

BrainHealth Brings You New Feature for February Lecture Series

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Center for BrainHealth is proud to share with you for the first time, full-length videos of The Brain: An Owner’s Guide annual sell-out lecture series.

Watch the four-part series and behind-the-scenes interviews with our lecture speakers here:

The Emy Lou & Jerry Baldridge Lecture The Winner Effect: How Power Affects Your Brain with Dr. Ian Robertson

Dr. Robertson's Interview

The Terry & MG (R) Lee Baxter Lecture Heartbreak to Healing: How One Warrior’s Parents Are Waging War Against Veteran Suicide with Dr. & Mrs. Howard Somers and moderated by Krys Boyd (from KERA’s Think!) 

Dr. & Mrs. Somers' Interview

The Bert Headden & Cindy Thomas Lecture Utilize Your Brain’s Plasticity For Brain Health with Dr. Michael Merzenich

Dr. Merzenich's Interview

The Brain Science Behind Golf: Why Some Experience the Yips with Dr. Debbie Crews

Dr. Debbie Crews's interview

The Container Store’s visionary sponsorship has made possible The Brain: An Owner’s Guide February lecture series for the last eight years. 

Center for BrainHealth

Reprogramming the Brain to Health Research Symposium 2015

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Reprogramming the Brain to Health Research Symposium brings together the most distinguished brain scientists to share and learn up-to-the-minute breakthroughs in brain research and recognize a pioneering neuroscientist whose innovation has made a tremendous contribution to the area of brain research with the Dr. Charles L. Branch BrainHealth Award.

This year, the ninth annual Symposium focused on emerging methods being used and developed to study brain function and recognized Dr. Marcus E. Raichle for his seminal contributions to the study of human brain function.

"The talks at this year's symposium provided a broad overview of the current state-of-the-art technologies that are dramatically changing how neuroscientists can unravel the mysteries of the brain, in our effort to promote brain health," said Dr. Mark D'Esposito, UC Berkeley neuroscience and psychology professor. "The highlight of the symposium was a keynote address from Dr. Marcus Raichle, one of the pioneers of the study of brain function using brain imaging. His talk highlighted how far we have come in the past 30 years in understanding the brain yet how much is left to discover."

Held at UC Berkeley on March 27, 2015, the Symposium was presented by the Center for BrainHealth and its partners at the Henry H. Wheeler Jr. Brain Imaging Center and the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute at UC Berkeley. The Symposium featured the following speakers:

David Feinberg, M.D., Ph.D.
Pushing the limits of MRI
Dr. Feinberg is an Adjunct Professor of Neuroscience at UC Berkeley and of Radiology at UCSF and president of Advanced MRI Technologies (AMRIT). He is an MR physicist with expertise in pulse sequences and MR scanner design.

John Clarke, Ph.D., Sc.D. and Ben Inglis, Ph.D.
Ultralow field MRI
Dr. Clarke is a Professor of Physics at UC Berkeley. His main research interest is in the development, noise limitations and applications of Superconducting Quantum Interference Devices (SQUIDs). Dr. Ben Inglis is the chief physicist and the main force behind the UC Berkeley Brain Imaging Center. He is an expert in MRI data acquisition specifically in the context of functional MRI

Jose Carmena, Ph.D.
Brain-Computer Interface Technology
Dr. Carmena is an Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering and Neuroscience at the UC Berkeley, and Co-Director of the Center for Neural Engineering and Prostheses at UC Berkeley and UCSF. His research program is aimed at understanding the neural basis of sensorimotor learning and control, and at building the science and engineering base that will allow the creation of reliable neuroprosthetic systems for the severely disabled.

Jyoti Mishra, Ph.D. and Joaquin Anguera, Ph.D.
Gaming Technology
Dr. Mishra is a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Adam Gazzaley, M.D. at UCSF and at the Brain Plasticity Institute at PositScience. Her research examines cognitive training tools in randomized controlled trials and is interested in the interaction between attention & working memory, dynamic multi sensory audiovisual environments, and the neural mechanisms underlying behavioral performance. Dr. Anguera is a Research Scientist in the labs of Adam Gazzaley, M.D. and Patricia Arean, Ph.D. at UCSF. The goal of his research is to examine how unique aspects of cognitive and motor performance contribute to the process of skill acquisition.

Marcus Raichle, M.D., Ph.D.
Keynote Address: The Restless Brain
Professor of Radiology, Neurology, and Anatomy & Neurobiology
Washington University School of Medicine

William Jagust, M.D.
Positron Emission Tomography
Dr. Jagust is a Professor of Public Health and Neuroscience and Associate Dean of Academic Affairs at UC Berkeley. His research is aimed at understanding the structural, functional and biochemical basis of brain aging and neurodegenerative diseases associated with brain aging. 

Robert Knight, M.D.
Dr. Knight is a Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at UC Berkeley. His laboratory studies the contribution of prefrontal cortex to human behavior.

Center for BrainHealth

Brain Health Breakthroughs:
 Good News for Service Members, Students and Seniors

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Center for BrainHealth founder and chief director. Dr. Sandra Chapman, UC Berkeley's Dr. Mark D'Esposito, and retired U.S. Navy SEAL, Lt. Morgan Luttrell, led "Brain Health Breakthroughs: Good News for Service Members, Students and Seniors" at the inaugural Congressional Neuroscience Caucus briefing co-chaired by Reps. Earl Blumenauer and Cathy McMorris Rodgers, on Thursday, March 19, 2015 in Washington D.C.

Helping spur the important discussion of our nation's brain health and the objectives necessary to make headway were two of the brain health movement's most stuanch supporters, Congressmen Earl Blumenauer and Pete Sessions.

"There is no more important area of inquiry and involvement than dealing with the many facets of neuroscience," said Rep. Blumenauer. "It touches every single family... neuroscience disorders are the leading cause of disability [and yet, n]euroscience actually is one of the few areas we haven't been able to show the remarkable progress that we've seen fighting cancer, or heart disease... It's not for a lack of trying and it's not because there aren't some good things going on, and more that we can do."

Fellow Texan, Rep. Pete Sessions affirmed the "incredible strides [we] have taken to improve cognitive brain performance in former members of our military, as well as students and seniors" and his pride in having "such an innovative and cutting-edge facility in the 32nd Congressional District."

After being introduced by Rep. Sessions, Dr. Chapman didn't waste any time, sharing the latest cognitive neuroscience discoveries, which reveal there are ways to improve brain health in people of all ages and stages. She went on to share the tremendous efforts Center for BrainHealth researchers have taken to improve cognitive brain performance in service members and veterans, students and seniors, with great focus on the Center's high performance cognitive training program designed to enhance brain processes such as mental flexibility, innovation, problem-solving, reasoning and strategic thinking.

As brain health among military service members has risen to the forefront of our national discourse, advanced reasoning skills in American students continue to fall behind those of other developed countries, and cognitive brain performance peaking, on average, in the early 40s of healthy adults, no cause is going to be more globally urgent, more beneficial, nor as staggeringly complex as discovering ways to build healthy brain function.

Speakers included:

Sandra Bond Chapman, Ph.D., is the Founder and Chief Director of the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas, Dee Wyly Distinguished University Chair, and Professor of Behavioral and Brain Sciences. She is actively studying and discovering informative pathways to improve brain function and cognitive performance in health, injury and disease. As a cognitive neuroscientist with more than 40 funded research grants, Chapman collaborates with scientists around the world to solve some of the most important issues concerning the brain and its health.

Mark D’Esposito, M.D. is a Professor of Neuroscience and Psychology and Director of the Henry H. Wheeler, Jr. Brain Imaging Center at the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute at the University of California, Berkeley. He is also Director of the Neurorehabilitation Unit at the Northern California VA Health Care System and Adjunct Professor of Neurology at UCSF. He has authored over 300 research publications as well as six books on the topics of behavioral neurology and cognitive neuroscience.

Lt. Morgan Luttrell is a retired United States Navy SEAL. After nine combat deployments in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, he enrolled at The University of Texas at Dallas to pursue an advanced degree in applied cognitive neuroscience.

This is one briefing in a series of Congressional Neuroscience Caucus Briefings that seek to promote a better understanding of how the brain develops, functions, and ages. The Caucus also seeks to raise awareness about the millions of Americans afflicted with neurological disorders or mental illnesses.

Watch the full briefing here:

Center for BrainHealth

Taking “Smart Shopping” to a whole new level

Friday, March 13, 2015

In celebration of bringing brain health awareness and empowerment to the community through a longstanding partnership with The Container Store, the Center for BrainHealth is thrilled to share an innovative and truly impactful addition to the relationship's eight meaningful years.

On March 21 & 22, 2015, The Container Store's Northwest Highway location in Dallas, will donate 10% of the proceeds directly to Center for BrainHealth research.

A commitment to continuously pursuing creative and innovative ways to impact the community, The Container Store's support of the brain health movement furthers the Center for BrainHealth's mission to understand, protect and heal the brain. 

The "Organized Life. Sharp Mind." partnership between The Container Store and the Center for BrainHealth is the driving force behind the annual sell-out lecture series The Brain: An Owner's Guide, held each February at the Center for BrainHealth. 

Center for BrainHealth

Center for BrainHealth Presents "Virtual Reality: Building Healthier Social Brains" at SXSW

Thursday, March 12, 2015

What if your most daunting aspiration was to make a friend?

For many on the autism spectrum, reading facial expressions and knowing how to respond are confusing daily challenges that create barriers to relationships and career goals.

Cognitive neuroscientists, clinicians and game developers at the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas have created a virtual reality platform to help individuals on the autism spectrum and those with social cognition differences achieve social and economic independence. Currently part of a research collaboration between the Center for BrainHealth and Yale University, the scientifically validated brain enhancing therapy is a fun, high-tech game with state-of-the-art graphics, real-time face tracking and personalized avatars that may also have implications for combatting bullying in schools.

Center for BrainHealth Founder and Chief Director, Dr. Sandra Chapman, and Brain Performance Institute Creative Director, Carl Lutz, shared virtual reality’s potential to build healthier social brains at SXSW Interactive Tuesday, March 17 at the Hyatt Regency Austin.

The Center for BrainHealth and Brain Performance Institute also had a booth at SXSW’s Health & MedTech Expo at the JW Marriott March 16th and 17th sharing the latest Center for BrainHealth research discoveries and Brain Performance Institute programs.

Watch the presentation here:

Download our brochure to learn more about our Social Cognition and Virtual Reality research
Center for BrainHealth

Brain Performance Institute warrior’s role in American Sniper: More than fifteen minutes of fame

Monday, March 2, 2015

For one UT Dallas employee, having a role in Clint Eastwood’s blockbuster film American Sniper meant more than fifteen minutes of fame.

A Kyle family friend and wounded warrior himself, Jake Schick, knew the film would send strong messages of hope and perseverance to his fellow brothers and sisters-in-arms and offer America a glimmer of the strength and bond many military families, including Navy SEAL Chris Kyle and his family, shared.

The film depicts the daunting toll of four deployments to Iraq and being touted the most lethal sniper in U.S. military history took in Chris’s professional and personal life, and emphasized the uniquely challenging and intense journey he and so many other warriors returning home face on a daily basis.

“I know the Kyle family well and I wasn’t going to be a part of something that didn’t accurately portray the family’s commitment to this country and to each other,” said Schick, Center for BrainHealth Brain Performance Institute Warrior Relations Specialist. “Knowing Chris’s story could serve as a platform to break down barriers for other warriors who may be struggling reaching out for help, I couldn’t not take the roll when Warner Bros. called.”

Jake landed the role of injured Marine “Wynn” after receiving what he thought was a scam Facebook message. “I called Chris’s little brother to make sure this was the real deal and after he gave the green light, it wasn’t long before I was on the phone, making plans. The rest is history.”

Medically retired from the United States Marine Corps after being severely wounded in combat, Jake says he “better have nailed the part.”

“I’ve been living the life of a severely wounded Marine for more than 10 years. On September 20, 2004, I was on a mission in the Sunni Triangle, driving a Humvee through soft sand when I hit an improvised explosive device. It blew up beneath me blowing me 30 feet in the air. I lost my right leg below the knee and parts of my hand and arm, but not all of my injuries were visible. I was diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder. The physical pain and recovery was intense, but it was nothing compared to the mental pain that followed. Physical pain lets you know you’re alive. Mental pain tests your will to stay that way.”

Jake believes seeing one of America’s elite struggle with the transition from military to civilian life may be a conversation starter for other service members and their families. “We’ve been fighting two wars for more than a decade. A warrior’s resolve and mindset is often to not seek help. The stigma associated with PTSD and other invisible injuries has got to go.”

Helping other warriors, like Chris did, is how Jake heals. “When you leave the service, your life changes,” said Schick. “The world you knew intimately as a member of the military is left behind and you begin again as a civilian. For those struggling with PTSD and TBI, it’s challenging to say the least. You’re often going through the motions, hour-by-hour. I want warriors to know you can do something. For me, it was coming to the Center for BrainHealth’s Brain Performance Institute after my friend, a former Navy SEAL, urged me to attend their high performance brain training program, because it had helped him so much. And now, I help other warriors on a daily basis as an employee.”

The Center for BrainHealth’s Brain Performance Institute offers warriors high performance brain training at no cost thanks to scholarships provided by private philanthropy. Boosting cognitive performance in areas of attention, reasoning, decision-making, problem-solving and innovation equips warriors with an essential tool kit to become strategic learners, deeper-level thinkers and innovation generators.

A partnership with La Quinta Inns & Suites™ has also afforded military spouses and caregivers the opportunity to attend the high performance brain training program, supporting healthier brains in the entire family network of warriors.

To date, more than 650 warriors across eight states have participated in the training through the Brain Performance Institute.  

“Take that first step,” said Schick. “Talk to a fellow warrior; reach out to a professional. Call the Center for BrainHealth. I’m living proof there is hope.”

To read more from Jake, click here.





Center for BrainHealth

Center for BrainHealth Tool Provides Unique Insight for Those with Traumatic Brain Injury

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

A new study reveals that individuals with traumatic brain injury (TBI) have significantly more difficulty with gist reasoning than traditional cognitive tests. Using a unique cognitive assessment developed by researchers at the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas, findings published Friday in the Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology indicate that an individual’s ability to “get the gist or extract the essence of a message” after a TBI more strongly predicts his or her ability to effectively hold a job or maintain a household than previously revealed by traditional cognitive tests alone. The study also further validates the Center for BrainHealth’s gist reasoning assessment as an informative tool capable of estimating a broad range of daily life skills.

“Gist reasoning characterizes a meaningful complex cognitive capacity. Assessing how well one understands and expresses big ideas from information they are exposed, commonly known as an ability to “get the gist”, is window into real life functionality. I do not know of any other paper and pencil test that can tell us both,” explained Asha Vas, Ph.D., research scientist at the Center for BrainHealth and lead study author. “Although performance on traditional cognitive tests is informative, widely-used measures do not paint the full picture. Adults with TBI often fare average or above on these structured measures. All too often, adults with brain injury have been told that they ought to be fine; in reality, they are not doing and thinking like they used to prior to the injury and struggle managing everyday life responsibilities years after the injury. Gist reasoning could be a sensitive tool to connect some of those dots as to why they are having trouble with real-life functionality despite falling into the range of “normal” on other cognitive tests.”

Study participants included 70 adults ages 25-55: 30 suffered a TBI one year or longer prior to the study and 40 were healthy controls. The TBI group and matched controls were of similar socioeconomic status, educational backgrounds, and IQ. Researchers administered a series of standard cognitive assessments, including working memory, inhibition, and switching. Researchers also gave the gist reasoning assessment, which studies the number of gist-based ideas (not explicitly stated facts) participants are able to abstract from multiple complex texts. Daily life functionality in TBI participants was evaluated using a self-rated questionnaire that included topics such as problem solving at work, managing finances, organizing grocery lists at home, and social interactions.

Although the two groups had similar IQ, reading comprehension and speed of processing scores, nearly 70% of the TBI group scored lower on gist reasoning compared to controls. The TBI survivors’ decreased gist-reasoning performance showed a direct correlation with difficulties at work and at home. Interestingly the cumulative score of all standard cognitive tests only predicted daily function with 45% accuracy in individuals with TBI. Adding the gist reasoning measure boosted accuracy to 58%.

“TBI needs to be treated as a chronic condition. While acute recovery care is essential, long-term monitoring and effective interventions are necessary to mitigate persistent or later-emerging deficits and ensure maximum brain regeneration and cognitive performance,” said Sandra Chapman,Ph.D., founder and chief director at the Center for BrainHealth and Dee Wyly Distinguished University Professor in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences at UT Dallas. “We don’t want anyone who has survived a TBI to think that if gist reasoning and day-to-day life is challenging today that it will always be that way, because gist reasoning can be improved. In an earlier study conducted at the Center for BrainHealth, we found that individuals with TBI can improve gist reasoning. This is very promising outcome, because increased gist reasoning is associated with improved functionality and greater brain blood flow, a sign of increased brain health.”

The researchers theorize that gist reasoning impairments could reflect losses in flexible and innovative thinking andthat losses in these areas hinder optimal daily life functioning, including job performance and social relationships. “Deficits of this nature may manifest in a lessened ability to problem solve in unexpected situations and understand others’ point of view,” Vas said.The Center is currently conducting multiple projects to study the effectiveness of high performance brain training strategies in individuals with TBI and other populations, to help improve brain function across the lifespan and enrich daily life.

This research was made possible by a Friends of BrainHealth Distinguished New Scientist Award.

Center for BrainHealth

Study Quantifies the Effect of Depressive Thoughts on Memory

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

For people with depressed mood, memory and concentration difficulties are often a day-to-day reality, greatly affecting job performance and personal relationships. While those with the disorder report that these cognitive problems are some of the most deeply troubling, previous studies have been unable to observe this phenomenon in a laboratory setting. In a study published online today in Cognition and Emotion, researchers at the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas are the first to substantiate memory deficits in individuals with depressed mood. The findings may have implications for the way cognitive deficits are diagnosed and treated in depression.

In the study, individuals with depressed mood show as much as a 12% reduction in memory compared to individuals without depressed mood when depressive thoughts are present, but perform similarly to individuals without depressed mood when depressive thoughts are not present. “The results suggest that individuals with and without depressed mood generally have a similar ability to actively remember information. However, when depressive thoughts are present, people with depressed mood are unable to remove their attention from this information, leading to deficits in their memory,” explained Nicholas Hubbard, the study’s lead author and a doctoral candidate at the Center for BrainHealth under Bart Rypma, Ph.D.

“Depression is an interference phenomenon. Rumination and negative thought-loops interfere with a person’s ability to think. We hypothesize that when individuals with depressed mood are exposed to stimuli, such as a meaningful song or a place that evokes sad feelings, the brain fixates on that and can’t focus on daily tasks such as a phone conversation or completing a grocery list,” explained Dr. Rypma, Meadows Foundation Chair and Associate Professor in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences at The University of Texas at Dallas. “In a traditional laboratory setting, external cues that induce depressive thoughts and therefore interfere with cognitive performance are eliminated. In our study, we found a way to incorporate them and observe their effects on memory.”

The study included 157 undergraduate students. All participants completed a computer-based depression inventory that measures self-reported, depressive symptoms experienced over the previous two-weeks. 60 participants were classified as having depressed mood and 97 as having non-depressed mood.

Researchers assessed working memory, the cognitive function that allows the brain to store information for short periods of time so that other cognitive processes can occur simultaneously.

Participants with and without depressed mood were asked to respond ‘True’ or ‘False’ to a sentence featuring either depressive thoughts (e.g., “I am sad,” “People don’t like me”) or neutral information (e.g. “Most people agree that Monday is the worst day of the week”), and then remember a string of numbers at the end.

People with depressed mood forgot more numbers than people without depressed mood when they responded to the sentence featuring negative information, but remembered just as many numbers when they responded to neutral information.

“Depression affects 151 million people worldwide and costs Americans $83 billion per year. Much of these costs are related to loss of productivity and increased rates of disability. Understanding and accurately diagnosing memory loss in depression is paramount for developing an effective therapeutic approach,” Hubbard explained. “Our findings implicate that therapeutic approaches such as teaching one to recognize and inhibit depressive thoughts could be a key aspect to treating cognitive deficits in depression.”

Using the new study paradigm, the research team plans to study individuals who meet the clinical diagnosis for depression. “In the past, imaging studies have shown brain differences between depressed and non-depressed individuals, but the cognitive tests did not match up,” said Dr. Rypma. “Now that we can reproduce the cognitive deficits in the laboratory, we can look at neural imaging studies with more confidence.”

This work was supported by the Friends of BrainHealth, the Linda and Joel Robuck Distinguished New Scientist award, and the Diane Cash Fellowship award.

Center for BrainHealth

An Investigation of Reasoning in Autism and Schizophrenia

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Social cognition is what allows us to relate to others; it informs our ability to read facial expressions and take turns during a conversation. People on the autism spectrum and individuals with schizophrenia score lower than healthy controls on social cognition tests, leading scientists to believe for years that the two populations may have comparable social skills. However, a new Center for BrainHealth study found that despite similar social cognitive abilities, individuals with autism are more adept at reasoning when it comes to understanding analogies.

“The findings are actually quite surprising,” explained Dan Krawczyk, Ph.D., Debbie and Jim Francis Chair in BrainHealth. “Social cognition and reasoning go hand in hand; individuals with mild autism spectrum disorder seem to be immune to their social cognitive deficits when it comes to reasoning in similar situations.”

The study, published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, is the first to examine analogical reasoning in schizophrenia. Forty-three participants were tested on 24 analogies of varying content. Individuals with schizophrenia demonstrated lower reasoning ability than individuals on the autism spectrum and healthy controls. Interestingly, the autism spectrum group showed more success with scenes depicting living objects (people/animal) than non-living.

“These findings are really counterintuitive. We expected the autism group to do better with problems that contained non-living objects,” said Dr. Krawczyk. “Apparently, when it comes to reasoning ability, problem content and social dynamics really matter.”

Center for BrainHealth

Letter from the chief director

Thursday, December 18, 2014

As you may know, my motto is ‘no status quo’. Forcing the mind to ratchet up from one idea to the next, charging upwards and onwards keeps life exciting, engaging and, as our research continually reinforces, enhances brain performance.

We have had a prolific year challenging status quo.

Our Brain Performance Institute grew from a staff of three to 25 in less than a year. Using the Center for BrainHealth as its base of operation and through mobile units, the Institute served the brain health needs of teens, corporate executives, individuals with autism, and, thanks to private philanthropy, provided free brain training to more than 500 warriors. Groundbreaking on a new, state-of-the-art facility is scheduled for 2015.

We published several internationally recognized research papers on various subjects including healthy aging, traumatic brain injury, fear, autism and addiction; collaborated with elite military forces to cognitively enhance the minds of our treasured service members; cumulatively reached more than 38,000 middle school students through our adolescent reasoning program; and launched many new research initiatives for a total number of fully funded projects exceeding 60.

None of this would have been possible without the tremendous backing of our steadfast donors, philanthropic partners, and scientific collaborators. Our supporters are vast and diverse. In addition to the generosity of private philanthropy, corporate citizenship and government funding, our dedicated circle of donors, the Friends of BrainHealth, raised more than $302,000 this year to fund innovative research initiatives of young scientists. Our young professionals organization, the Think Ahead Group, contributed $50,000 to research that aims to help individuals on the autism spectrum achieve social and economic independence.

Our hearts overflow with gratitude for this unique opportunity to push the boundaries of brain science while embracing the chance to improve the human condition. In 2015 we will continue to search for biomarkers of brain health and ways to strengthen brain function, structure and performance at all levels in health, injury and disease. We proudly do this in the interest of empowering our brains to contribute to the best possible quality of life, fueling our ever-expanding lifespans.

Wishing you a happy, safe, and brain healthy holiday season,

Sandi Chapman, Ph.D.

Founder and Chief Director

Center for BrainHealth

Big D Powder Puff Tackles Alzheimer’s

Thursday, December 18, 2014

More than 150 of Dallas’ most beautiful and talented young-professional females took the field at the Cotton Bowl for the 7th Annual BvB Dallas Powder-Puff Football Game presented by Bud Light on August 16.  Founded by sisters whose father was afflicted by Alzheimer’s, BvB exceeded its 2014 goal of $400,000 to raise more than $441,000 toward eradicating the grave disease. This year’s game benefited the Center for BrainHealth and UT Southwestern Medical Center.

Over the last seven years, BvB has raised more than $1.8 million. Each year Team Blonde, Team Brunette and coaches spend the months of May through August preparing for game day, running training drills and raising at least $1,000 each for the cause. More than 3,500 fans brave the triple-digit temperatures to cheer on their favorite team.

“Big D Powder Puff Tackling Alzheimer’s (BvB Dallas) was thrilled to announce the Center for BrainHealth as one of our Season 7 beneficiaries,” said BvB Dallas Board President, Jennifer Bergman. “The Center for BrainHealth has impressed us with their innovative research and programs dedicated to Alzheimer’s disease. Our partnership with the Center is important not only to our mission, but also to our participants, many who are personally affected by Alzheimer’s. We have greatly enjoyed working with the Center, their staff and volunteers.  Their support during our 7th Season has been instrumental in our success, and we look forward to seeing what BvB Dallas can help the Center for BrainHealth accomplish.”

“Alzheimer’s disease is a formidable foe, listed as number 3 of America’s top killers behind heart disease and cancer. And while the brain disease is a frightening diagnosis, scientific discoveries are bringing new hope for those living with the disease and those at risk for developing it,” said Sandra Bond Chapman, Ph.D., Founder and Chief Director of the Center for BrainHealth. “Our research at the Center for BrainHealth is contributing to solutions that will one day reduce risk, and help to earlier diagnose and treat Alzheimer’s disease effectively. With the support of BvB, we can continue to make great strides in building brain resilience and maximizing cognitive performance across the lifespan in health, injury and disease.”

Center for BrainHealth

Humanitarian Heart: Hamon Endowment for Veteran Support

Thursday, December 18, 2014

We have been at war for more than a decade. Since 9/11, more than 2.5 million have worn a uniform to protect America’s freedom. Now they are coming home and facing the dynamic challenges of reintegration to civilian life. For many warriors, shedding the uniform signifies the surrender of purpose, mission and the camaraderie of their military service. Finding a new way to channel their intelligence, resilience, and drive to succeed is imperative to ensuring the next greatest generation’s ultimate victory, being able to enjoy the life they have so courageously defended.

In a move to support our nation’s most patriotic citizens, the Hamon Charitable Foundation donated $1 million to the Center for BrainHealth’s Brain Performance Institute to establish the Hamon Endowment for Veteran Support. The permanent endowment will help fund treatment and training that helps bridge the transition from the battlefield to life as a civilian for returning veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces.

“We recognize the need to help the veterans who have encountered traumatic situations in fighting our foreign wars. Our goal is to endorse programs that provide a real-time and direct benefit to the veterans,” explained Kelly Roach, President of the Hamon Charitable Foundation.

“The Center’s leading scientific research and humanitarian benefits are consistent with the mission of the Foundation,” said Mr. Roach. “We knew when we had the opportunity to meet with veterans at the Center, that our foundation’s founders, Jake and Nancy Hamon, would have recognized and appreciated the work being done.”

Foundation board members met with retired U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Jake Schick and retired U.S. Navy SEAL Lt. Morgan Luttrell who shared their stories of survival from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and their gratitude for the Institute’s high performance brain training programs that positively and significantly changed the course of their lives. While Cpl. Schick’s prosthetic leg and extensively rebuilt hand serve as reminders of the extreme physical injury he endured, both warriors described their unseen scars and reported that their invisible wounds were far more painful and difficult to overcome than any visible ones.

“The strategies I learned assisted me as a leader in the SEAL teams while at home training or deployed on combat missions around the world,” said Lt. Luttrell. “Today, I continue to apply the strategies and benefit as a husband, father, student and an active member in society.”

Cpl. Schick confirmed, “Out of all of the drugs I was prescribed and therapy I was forced to attend, the training I received at the Center for BrainHealth helped tenfold.”

Debbie Francis, Center for BrainHealth Board Chair, explained the spark that led to the generous gift from the highly regarded Dallas-based foundation. “The Hamon Foundation is known and respected for making meaningful gifts in the community. When I approached the Foundation, I knew that they would only be interested in a partnership that would create a lasting and meaningful impact for warriors. We were most grateful they chose to include us as one of their beneficiaries.”

Center for BrainHealth

Center for BrainHealth in the running for CultureMap Charity Challenge

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Center for BrainHealth has been selected by CultureMap and Briggs Freeman Sotheby's International Realty to participate in the CultureMap Charity Challenge, an initiative that empowers readers to pick CultureMap’s signature non-profit partner for 2015! Twelve non-profits will be featured on the CultureMap Charity Challenge voting page, here.

How can you help? We would love your vote! BrainHealth supporters can vote once a day starting today, December 10, through December 24 and the winner will be announced January 5. With your help, we are in the running for an advertising package from CultureMap valued at $10,000 in addition to the broad reach social media exposure and advertising will bring us throughout the challenge. Winning this challenge would launch our message of brain health far and wide. Please share with your friends, family, neighbors, and community.  

Track the competition here. Spread the message on Facebook and Twitter using this link and the hashtag #BeABrainChanger.

Center for BrainHealth

Study shows cognitive training can improve brain performance of students in poverty

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The cognitive effects of poverty can be mitigated during middle school with a targeted intervention, according to researchers at the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas.

In a paper published today in the open-access journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, researchers for the first time examine the efficacy of cognitive training in a large and diverse group of 7th and 8th grade public middle school students as compared to typically developing students who received no specific training.

“Previous research has shown that growing up in poverty can shape the wiring and even physical dimensions of a young child’s brain, with negative effects on language, learning and attention,” said Dr. Jacquelyn Gamino, director of the Center for BrainHealth’s Adolescent Reasoning Initiative and assistant research professor in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences at The University of Texas at Dallas. “What this work shows is that there is hope for students in poverty to catch up with their peers not living in poverty.”

The research team studied 913 middle school students from varying socioeconomic backgrounds, accounting for any diagnosed medical or learning differences. Five hundred and fifty six students received the cognitive intervention and 357 served as a comparison group. The protocol included pre- and post-training assessments, in which all adolescents were asked to read several texts and then craft a high-level summary, drawing upon inferences to transform ideas into novel, generalized statements, and recall important facts. For the 556 students who received the Center for BrainHealth-developed cognitive training called SMART (Strategic Memory Advanced Reasoning Training), they completed 10 45-minute sessions over a one-month period. The SMART program was provided by research clinicians and consists of hierarchical cognitive processes that are explained and practiced through group interactive exercises and pen and paper activities using student instructional manuals.

“Much focus has been put on early childhood learning and brain development – and for good reason,” said Dr. Gamino. “However, extensive frontal lobe development and pruning occurs during adolescence making middle school a prime opportunity to impact cognitive brain health.”

“Existing studies show that a large percentage of students in middle school are not developing inferential thinking entering high school,” explained Dr. Gamino. “The cognitive gains demonstrated after short-term, intensive training in this research suggest that middle school is an appropriate and beneficial time to teach students strategies to enhance understanding and the ability to infer global meanings from information beyond the explicit facts.”

Cognitive tests indicate that students living in poverty showed as much as a 25% increase in gist reasoning, or the ability to derive abstracted meaning from information presented, after training, comparable to the gains made by their peers living above the poverty line. Additionally, the SMART-trained group, regardless of socioeconomic status, showed significant generalized gains and as much as an 18% improvement in increased memory for facts, even though this skill was not specifically targeted in training.

“The ability to use inference to abstract meaning from incoming information as trained in the SMART program is a skill crucial to future life success and applies to both academic and informal learning activities such as reading a school assignment, listening and taking notes from a lecture, watching a movie or television program, or having a conversation with a friend,” Dr. Gamino continued. 

Findings revealed gender differences among the students studied as well. Seventh and eighth grade girls showed significant improvement after receiving the SMART program, as did 8th grade boys, regardless of socioeconomic level. After training, 7th grade boys showed improvement in fact retention but not gist reasoning.

The Center for BrainHealth’s Adolescent Reasoning Initiative has provided training to more than 300 teachers and 30,000 teens across the country. The research team is planning to expand their study to determine if cognitive training closes the academic achievement gap by conducting longitudinal research and comparing standardized test scores.

The research was funded by the State of Texas, The AT&T Foundation, The Meadows Foundation and The Pickens Foundation. 

Click here to view infographic

Center for BrainHealth

Flex Your Cortex: 7 Secrets to Turbocharge Your Brain

Friday, December 5, 2014

Center for BrainHealth founder and chief director Dr. Sandra Chapman shared insights on the power of the human mind in “Flex Your Cortex: 7 Secrets to Turbocharge Your Brain” at the Bay Area TEDx Talk.

Joining 17 speakers from around the country, Dr. Chapman encouraged us all to focus on the most fascinating of scientific discoveries – our brain – and provided strategies that maximize our cognitive potential.

Center for BrainHealth research has challenged conventional wisdom and societal pressures that the brain is static and unchangeable with more than 30 years of research leading to the development of scientifically validated strategies proving it is dynamic, adaptable, flexible and repairable. A commitment to applying these strategies has the potential to dramatically improve lives regardless of age and even in those with brain injury or disease.

Click here to read Dr. Chapman's Huffington Post blog about the seven secrets. 

TED is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to sharing big ideas and created independently organized events called TEDx in an effort to bring together communities for a TED-like experience.

Center for BrainHealth

Center for BrainHealth Public Lecture Series Brings Nationally Recognized Experts to Dallas

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Center for BrainHealth at the University of Texas at Dallas announced its annual sell-out public lecture lineup today. The Brain: An Owner’s Guide, made possible by the generosity and vision of The Container Store, was designed to translate the latest brain research and treatment developments into cutting-edge topical lectures for the community. The four-part series, held at 2200 W. Mockingbird Lane, begins February 3, 2015 at 7:00 p.m. and continues each Tuesday night throughout the month.

"At The Container Store we believe that being organized promotes a sharp mind, so we continuously pursue creative and innovative ways our employees and customers can live their best, most productive and organized life," said Melissa Reiff, President and Chief Operating Officer of The Container Store. "We are proud to be partnering again on the lecture series as it is truly an amazing opportunity for everyone in the community to hear about groundbreaking research and advocacy efforts directly from the experts."

Prominent brain research leaders and advocates from across the country will speak about a variety of topics including ways power influences cognitive performance, combatting suicide and mental health barriers among our nation’s warriors, our brain’s inherent capability to constantly repair and rebuild itself, and the brain science behind a golfer’s optimal performance.

This is the eighth year the Center for BrainHealth and The Container Store have partnered to bring brain health awareness and empowerment into the community. “Our brain is the most adaptable and modifiable organ in our body,” Dr. Sandra Chapman, the Center for BrainHealth’s founder and chief director, said. “This lecture series is an invitation for our community to join the brain health movement and take charge of their cognitive well-being.”

The Brain: An Owner’s Guide Lecture Series schedule:

February 3: The Emy Lou & Jerry Baldridge Lecture
The Winner Effect: How Power Affects Your Brain 
Ian Robertson, Ph.D.

Dr. Robertson, founding director of Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience and co-author of the leading international textbook on cognitive rehabilitation, will share how we can harness the effects of power and empowerment to get the most out of our brains at every age. Dr. Robertson is currently Chair of Psychology at Trinity College Dublin and has visiting professorships at University College in London and Columbia University in New York.

February 10: The Terry and Major General (Retired) Lee Baxter Lecture
Heartbreak to Healing: How One Warrior’s Parents are Waging the War Against Veteran Suicide
Jean and Howard Somers, M.D.

Jean and Dr. Howard Somers’ journey began on June 10, 2013 after their son, Daniel, took his own life following his return from a second deployment in Iraq. At the time, Daniel suffered from post traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury and Gulf War Syndrome. The Somers are determined to use their son’s death to raise awareness of the struggles veterans face once home from war, expose gaps in healthcare for service members and repair a broken Veterans Affairs System. They will share how they are taking their fight from Washington D.C. to the California coast and how you can join their efforts to effect positive change today.

February 17: The Bert Headden & Cindy Thomas Lecture
Utilize Your Brain’s Plasticity for Brain Health
Michael Merzenich, Ph.D.

Dr. Merzenich, one of the scientists responsible for our current understanding of brain plasticity, the notion that the brain can change itself at any age, and co-founder of three brain plasticity-based therapeutic software companies, will share how we can marshal our greatest asset – our brain – to optimize our health and well-being. Dr. Merzenich and his research have been highlighted in hundreds of books about the brain, learning, rehabilitation, and plasticity, and covered in the popular press including New York Times, the Wall Street JournalTimeForbesDiscover, and Newsweek in addition to many television appearances.

April 16: Rescheduled due to inclement weather
The Brain Science Behind Golf: Why Some Experience the “Yips”
Debbie Crews, Ph.D.

Dr. Crews, founder of the International Journal of Golf Science, will share the fascinating behavioral, cognitive, and psychophysiological science behind getting the “yips” in the game of golf and learning to play with the yips. Dr. Crews is a Sports Psychology Consultant for the Arizona State University (ASU) Women’s Golf Team and a Faculty Teaching Associate in Exercise and Wellness at ASU. Dr. Crews is also a Master Professional in the LPGA Teaching and Club Professionaland serves on the LPGA National Education and Research Board.

The price is $35 for a single ticket to one lecture, $45 for a ticket at the door and $130 for a series pass to all four lectures. 

Center for BrainHealth

Support for families facing Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

“With my mother, we went from everything being normal to being scared very quickly. Just a year and three months after her diagnosis, she was a danger to herself, and we had to move her into a facility. In retrospect, the signs were there much earlier than we realized. So many things we look back on - what she was doing, what she quit doing- if we had more education or more exposure to the disease, we may have done things differently,” explained Shelley Tims.

In August 2012, at age 65, Shelley’s mother, Kathy Tims, was diagnosed with frontal dementia and possible early onset Alzheimer’s. Warning signs appeared as early as 2005, but were misattributed to personality quirks and stubbornness.

“Until we can solve [the disease],” said Shelley, “we want to help make the transition easier.” Shelley and her father, Lamar, have pledged an ongoing commitment to the Center for BrainHealth for what they have deemed the Initiative for Early Discovery, starting with a $50,000 donation to help families who will find themselves in a similar situation. The initiative takes a three-pronged approach to improve quality of life after diagnosis and raise awareness about the signs of dementia.

“People deal with this in a lot of different ways. Shelley and I wanted to find the opportunity,” said Lamar Tims. “There are things that you can see and pick up on, and we want people to know what they are and what choices you can make to make it easier for you and your loved one.”

The unique program engages the patient, the caregiver and healthcare graduate students in building a framework for moving forward. For individuals newly diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia, the Discovery Group puts focus on preserved abilities, emphasizing remaining strengths and creating a supportive atmosphere where individuals with Alzheimer’s or dementia can find camaraderie, learn about the disease, medications, and beneficial lifestyle factors. Families receive and are connected to useful resources, practical information and build lasting relationships with others in the same situation. Student clinicians learn and practice techniques to stimulate the brain and extend its performance through the early stages of dementia.

“We are so grateful for the Tims family and their desire to help others navigate this challenging life adjustment,” said Audette Rackley, Head of Special Programs at the Center. “The diagnosis can feel terrifying, but the Tims Family Initiative is helping people get on a right path.”

To learn more about the Discovery Group, contact Audette Rackley, M.S., CCC-SLP at 972.883.3405 or click here to email.

Center for BrainHealth

Study shows marijuana’s long-term effects on the brain

Monday, November 10, 2014

The effects of chronic marijuana use on the brain may depend on age of first use and duration of use, according to researchers at the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas.

In a paper published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), researchers for the first time comprehensively describe existing abnormalities in brain function and structure of long-term marijuana users with multiple magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) techniques. Findings show chronic marijuana users have smaller brain volume in the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), a part of the brain commonly associated with addiction, but also increased brain connectivity.

“We have seen a steady increase in the incidence of marijuana use since 2007,“said Dr. Francesca Filbey, Associate Professor in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences at the University of Texas at Dallas and Director of the Cognitive Neuroscience Research in Addictive Disorders at the Center for BrainHealth. “However, research on its long-term effects remains scarce despite the changes in legislation surrounding marijuana and the continuing conversation surrounding this relevant public health topic.”

The research team studied 48 adult marijuana users and 62 gender- and age-matched non-users, accounting for potential biases such as gender, age and ethnicity. The authors also controlled for tobacco and alcohol use. On average, the marijuana users who participated in the study consumed the drug three times per day. Cognitive tests show that chronic marijuana users had lower IQ compared to age-and gender-matched controls but the differences do not seem to be related to the brain abnormalities as no direct correlation can be drawn between IQ deficits and OFC volume decrease.

“What’s unique about this work is that it combines three different MRI techniques to evaluate different brain characteristics,” said Dr. Sina Aslan, founder and president of Advance MRI, LLC and adjunct assistant professor at The University of Texas at Dallas. “The results suggest increases in connectivity, both structural and functional that may be compensating for gray matter losses. Eventually, however, the structural connectivity or ‘wiring’ of the brain starts degrading with prolonged marijuana use.”

Tests reveal that earlier onset of regular marijuana use induces greater structural and functional connectivity. Greatest increases in connectivity appear as an individual begins using marijuana. Findings show severity of use is directly correlated to greater connectivity.

Although increased structural wiring declines after six to eight years of continued chronic use, marijuana users continue to display more intense connectivity than healthy non-users, which may explain why chronic, long-term users “seem to be doing just fine” despite smaller OFC brain volumes, Filbey explained.

“To date, existing studies on the long-term effects of marijuana on brain structures have been largely inconclusive due to limitations in methodologies,” said Dr. Filbey. “While our study does not conclusively address whether any or all of the brain changes are a direct consequence of marijuana use, these effects do suggest that these changes are related to age of onset and duration of use.”

The study offers a preliminary indication that gray matter in the OFC may be more vulnerable than white matter to the effects of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive ingredient in the cannabis plant. According to the authors, the study provides evidence that chronic marijuana use initiates a complex process that allows neurons to adapt and compensate for smaller gray matter volume, but further studies are needed to determine whether these changes revert back to normal with discontinued marijuana use, whether similar effects are present in occasional marijuana users versus chronic users and whether these effects are indeed a direct result of marijuana use or a predisposing factor.

The research was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse to Dr. Filbey (R01 DA030344, K01 DA021632). 

Center for BrainHealth

An Open Letter to Warriors

Monday, November 10, 2014

Jake Schick, a former Marine who was severely wounded conducting combat operations in the Sunni Triangle of Iraq in 2004, writes an open letter to his fellow warriors addressing the invisible wounds of war.

Fellow Warriors,

In 2004, the Humvee I was driving hit a triple stack tank mine that was pressure plate ignited. It detonated directly beneath me, throwing me 30 feet into the air, and I landed on my head. Needless to say, it was a long day at the office. 

I was in the hospital for a year and a half. I’ve undergone 46 operations and 23 blood transfusions and endured countless hours of rehabilitation. I lost parts of my hand, arm and leg, but those weren’t the “worst” of my injuries.

I was labeled with two of the diagnoses we dread: PTSD and TBI.  As we say in the Marines, “Small price to pay to be one of the world’s finest!” And those labels haunted my every day for years. As I like to say, they are the gift that keeps on giving.

It's no secret that transition from service to civilian life is challenging to say the least. We’re each longing for that same sense of purpose and guiding mission; we’re searching for the ultimate sense of community we developed as brothers in arms.

But, there are three things we’re facing that we must overcome. We owe it to each other. 

Twenty-two of our fellow warriors commit suicide everyday because they are simply sick and tired of battling to survive just one more day as a civilian. I must confess the same demon has reared its ugly head in my own life multiple times. Because of who we are and what we have accomplished, I know none of us want to be a statistic. One, much less 22 a day, is too many.

Our warrior brothers are who we listen to. We can change the culture among us to not be fearful or ashamed of what’s going on inside our heads and instead encourage each other to seek appropriate help and proper training. Why? Because we can do something about it.

You can change your brain; you’re not stuck with what you’ve got. Trust me, I’ve done it because another fellow warrior encouraged me. And because of that opportunity, I’ve become a better husband to my wife and a better father to my son. Ultimately, I’ve become a better man.

We’ve each trained for countless hours on how to do things some of us never thought possible or even in the realm of reality. We pushed ourselves physically and mentally further than we ever imagined. We must take that same drive and determination and channel it toward our brain’s health.

I spent several years in the Marine Corps training how to perfect various weapons and weapons systems to be the most effective warrior I could possibly be. But, what more powerful weapon do we have than our very own brain? The Center for BrainHealth’s programs empowered me; now I am able to give back to my fellow warriors through its new Brain Performance Institute.

I challenge you to stop thinking in terms of what is and start thinking what could be.

Semper Fidelis,

Cpl. Jake Schick USMC (RET)

Click here for more information about the Center for BrainHealth’s veteran programs or click here for information about the Center's new Brain Performance Institute.

Center for BrainHealth

Q & A with Dr. Sandra Chapman

Monday, October 20, 2014

Where were you born, and where did you grow up?

I am a Texas girl all the way. Dallas has been my primary home except for a few years living in Palo Alto where I worked as an assistant to the Chair of the aeronautical space engineering department at Stanford – the first academic program degree in space travel.

What event in your life inspired you to work in brain health?

Early on, I wanted to be involved in space travel - specifically to be involved in the Moon Shot. Every country around the world focused major financial resources and their top talent on trying to be the first to get to the moon. As a daughter of a math teacher, a degree in math was a natural for me with a secondary focus on computer science.  But before I could even complete my studies – the US made it to the moon. I figured that was already done – I needed to move on.

So, I then became fascinated by the brain – an even more complex challenge. To this day, brain science and the ability to improve its functions remains the most important and unchartered frontier of discovery. I eventually pursued a doctoral degree in communication sciences with a focus on cognitive neuroscience. I still remember Steve, who had suffered a brain aneurysm 2 years before he participated in my doctoral research. After I tested him on complex measures, I told him how bright he was as he could quickly synthesize novel big ideas from lengthy information – no easy mental task. He said “No, I’m not. My doctors told me I could only be a car parker." I told him not to let that stand in his way – what did he want to do? He said he always wanted to go to college. So he did and with our help, he graduated magna cum laude on full scholarship from SMU and went on to complete graduate work and help others with brain injury – not accept a disabled label.

This experience and many other similar ones across the age span in individuals with a broad array of brain issues made me realize how little was known about our brain’s function and its immense ability to adapt and repair. I was challenged by the realization that there wasn’t going to be just one right answer, like in math. Rather, each individual’s brain was a uniquely new and complex challenge and only deep knowledge and hands on experience would make a difference for them.  I realized that I was powerfully and passionately drawn to that human element and as well as the limitless need for greater discovery about the human brain and its operating systems.

What event/person prompted you to conceive of the Center for Brain Health?

From the beginning of my research career, I saw, time and time again, patients repeatedly being told by medical professionals that the limitations of their brain capacity, resulting from injury, disease, or socioeconomic status, were irreversible. And yet, I had observed much the opposite – that with effort and training they continued to make gains well beyond what had been predicted.

Early on in my career, I worked with a young man with severe autism. My tape recorder broke during our session and he took the entire thing apart, put it back together again and it worked perfectly. He was able to get a job at a local dry-cleaners at a very young age – because he could expertly operate the equipment better than the adult employees. Why was this person was labeled as incapable of learning?  Then, there was a young woman who had been born prematurely and weighed 2.8 pounds at birth. Her family was told that she would never be able to live independently. I encouraged them to keep expecting and stimulating her brain development.  She went on to get a graduate degree and is now an executive.

I knew at that point that a new approach to researching the brain was needed. It would require viewing the brain with a new lens - since the ‘facts’ I had learned from books that brain injury was permanent and the time window for repair was limited to one year were clearly wrong. Instead – the brain needed to be studied and appreciated as a complex organ that has more back-up systems than any space shuttle where other brain regions and new connections could work around areas that were injured or compromised to some degree and that improvement could take place for life. I am impatient about new findings taking too long to help people – at best 20 to 30 years. I was determined to create an innovative place where every scientist focused on, and was dedicated to, improving brain health, today. Voila – the vision for the Center for BrainHealth at UTDallas became a reality.

That is such a huge goal!  What (or who) gave you the energy and confidence to move forward?

I was greatly encouraged by Dallas community leaders early on like Dave Fox and Norm Brinker to create a big vision for what a brain health focused research center could become. I was able to share with them the variety of successes our scientific team had achieved with diverse individual brain issues. That led to them trusting us to help them develop custom strategies to deal with workday deficits that they were experiencing as a result of brain injury and progressive brain disease. Both of these amazing men challenged me personally to help others,  just as I had helped them, by creating a world class scientific center of excellence focused on brain health across the entire life span.

What is the secret to building such an important organization from the ground up?

Passion. Compassion. Not accepting Status quo. Impatience. At the Center for BrainHealth, we have been able to attract a group of highly skilled and focused scientists, highly trained clinicians and talented support staff that passionately embrace our collective goal of achieving meaningful scientific breakthroughs and immediately translating them into practice with people in need - now. In addition, I never accept status quo. The BrainHealth team is tenacious in their efforts to push the limits of current brain science and discover novel ways to enhance cognitive performance for all.

If you could pick one outstanding achievement of the Center for Brain Health, what would it be?

We have become the thought leader in championing the message that brain health is the cause of this century. We believe that it is critical for each individual to take steps to match their cognitive brain span to their body’s every increasing lifespan.

We’re letting the public know they don’t have to be let their brain performance lose ground – that they can change their brain. We’re giving them solutions and strategies that allow them to attain better brain function on all levels.  We are also incredibly excited about being on the leading edge of proving that metrics of brain blood flow and advanced reasoning rather than IQ type tests are true biomarkers of brain health.

In your new book, Make Your Brain Smarter, you address the fact that memory is not the most important measure of brain capacity.  If not that, what is?

Our educational systems and corporations continuously reinforce the importance of memorization and fact learning yet, when it comes to our brain, it really is a case of quality over quantity. Our brain functions best by using its core intellectual processes: abstract thinking, problem solving, reasoning, planning and judgment. These are higher order thinking skills that keep you independent throughout life such as making sound financial decisions and maintaining your household. We can compensate for memory glitches, but we cannot compensate for sound judgment.

What is your ultimate vision for the future of the Center for Brain Health?

My vision for the Center for BrainHealth at the University of Texas at Dallas is that it will be the catalyst in establishing Dallas as the world’s preeminent brain health focused research institute. And to further that goal, the Center for BrainHealth’s 135-strong scientific team, will be augmented by the recently announced Brain Performance Institute, the translational arm of the Center for BrainHealth, where once we have proven scientific trials to enhance brain health, training and treatment programs can be immediately made available to individuals across the life span in health, brain injury and disease. We are currently working with several inspiring populations including warriors, athletes, executives, and public school students. We are proving daily that brain health is necessary and possible for everyone regardless of age, health, status, or lifework.


Center for BrainHealth

Firefight: Inside the Battle to Transform Health for America’s Warriors on Deployment and at Home

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Center for BrainHealth’s Brain Performance Institute will host the Dennis Berman Brain Performance Lecture, “Firefight: Inside the Battle to Transform Health for America’s Warriors on Deployment and Here at Home,” featuring former United States Air Force Surgeon General, retired Lieutenant General PK Carlton Jr.

Tickets are available for purchase here. Complimentary tickets for warriors, military spouses and caregivers.

General Carlton will highlight the extraordinary impact of medical advances that led to the highest survival rate in the history of war and share how mere survival is not enough, how we can improve acute and long-term care to help service members thrive during and after service, and the path forward to transforming health for warriors. The lecture will be held at 2200 W. Mockingbird Lane on October 22, 2014 at 6:00 p.m.

“The brain is the last great frontier in medicine and the Center for BrainHealth and Brain Performance Institute are pioneers in arming the warrior community with tools to harness their best brain health,” said General Carlton.

A trailblazer in the field of military medicine, General Carlton is the author of the current war plan of far-forward surgical capabilities and in-air critical care, which resulted in a dramatic increase in survival rates. His revolutionary changes in battlefield procedure are directly responsible for saving at least one Brain Performance Institute team member. Jacob Schick is a retired Marine Corporal who was severely wounded in Iraq in 2004 after a triple-stacked tank mine detonated beneath his Humvee. “My immediate evacuation from the war zone was a direct reflection of General Carlton’s innovative medical efforts,” said Schick. “I know there are countless others that are alive today because of his extraordinary accomplishments.”

“The health and welfare of our nation’s warriors is of utmost importance,” said Eric Bennett, executive director for the Brain Performance Institute. “It is our responsibility to ensure these courageous men and women are equipped with the tools to lead fulfilling lives in and out of uniform. The Brain Performance Institute is paving the way for warriors to flourish and achieve their full brain potential and General Carlton’s work epitomizes innovation that capitalizes on emerging scientific discoveries. We are grateful for his courage and conviction to continue fighting for the best medical solutions possible.”

Tickets to the Dennis Berman Brain Performance Lecture featuring retired Air Force Lieutenant General PK Carlton Jr. are available here. Lecture sponsors include Linda and Joel Robuck and MG(R) Lee and Terry Baxter. 

Center for BrainHealth

‘Friends of BrainHealth’ Raises $300,000, Awards Research Grants to Young Scientists

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Friends of BrainHealth, a donor circle dedicated to advancing research discoveries at the Center for BrainHealth, raised more than $302,000 this year and awarded four $25,000 research grants to young scientists at the annual Friends of BrainHealth Scientist Selection Luncheon.

2014 Friends of BrainHealth chairs, Tracy and Ballard Castleman along with membership chairs Helen and Rives Castleman spearheaded this year’s effort that supports a unique program to provide young scientists the invaluable opportunity to design and lead their own research studies at an early point in their careers.

More than ninety members attended the luncheon at the Dallas Country Club today that showcased six finalists selected from competing Center for BrainHealth graduate students, doctoral candidates, and postdoctoral fellows by the Friends of BrainHealth Scientist Selection Committee. Vanguard members who contribute at the Visionary Friend level ($25,000) announced recipients of three named awards and a vote proclaimed the final awardee live.

Joel Robuck, explaining his and wife Linda’s commitment to being a Visionary Friend, said, “We believe the research is of the highest quality and its emphasis on translating its findings into useful solutions uniquely positions the Center to address pressing brain health needs quickly.” This year’s Linda and Joel Robuck Distinguished New Scientist, Lee Ann Young, M.A., a doctoral student and research assistant for Daniel Krawczyk, Ph.D., the Debbie and Jim Francis Chair in BrainHealth, will use her award to establish a basis for future work that intends to develop a comprehensive, individualized diagnosis and treatment approach for traumatic brain injury. Using a virtual reality platform that mimics real-life cognitive load, the protocol aims to provide more accurate assessments than tests performed in a traditional clinical setting.

The Sapphire Foundation Distinguished New Scientist, Lori Cook, Ph.D., a recently appointed adjunct assistant professor who completed her post-doctoral fellowship in the lab of founder and chief director, Sandra Chapman, Ph.D., will investigate how to use strategy-based curriculum to prime the minds of elementary-aged children for complex learning. “Sapphire is very pleased to be able to support Dr. Cook's research as it aligns with the foundation's desire to impact education and the learning process in a meaningful way,” stated Dana Juett, Sapphire Foundation CEO.

The Katherine and Bob Penn Distinguished New Scientist award went to Nyaz Didehbani, Ph.D., research scientist and former postdoctoral fellow in the lab of medical science director John Hart, Jr., M.D., for her study that explores the efficacy of an ocular test that assesses youth sports concussions on the playing field. “Concussions are a serious problem for athletes at every level of sports, both professionals as well as students. We are excited about the research that Dr. Didehbani has done to address this issue and are so pleased to support the fine work on it,” explained Bob Penn who, along with wife Katherine, made the luncheon possible.

The final award went to member favorite, Bambi DeLaRosa, M.S., a doctoral student of John Hart, Jr., M.D., who will utilize EEG neurofeedback to help understand the relationship between brain waves and performance, with the prospect of implementing novel brain training to extend an individual’s cognitive abilities in healthy aging.

“These awards give our young scientists a career-accelerating opportunity that builds the foundation for making major breakthroughs on a grand scale,” explained the Center’s development director, Kimber Hartmann. “We are extraordinarily grateful to have such a forward thinking group of donors who are interested in cultivating future scientific leaders.”

Former honorary chairs of the Friends of BrainHealth include Toni and Norm Brinker, Sue Justice, Sammye Myers and Dee Wyly. Former Friends of BrainHealth chairs include Caroline Gehan with Ross and Anne Helbing,Kimber Hartmann with Angie Kadesky and Daffan Nettle.

The Friends of BrainHealth kicks off their 2015 campaign with incoming co-chairs, Lucy Billingsley and Lindsay Billingsley, on November 1.

Friends of BrainHealth offers seven membership levels: Junior Friend* ($250) Companion ($500), Friend ($1,000), Special Friend ($2,500), Esteemed Friend ($5,000), Distinguished Friend ($10,000), and Visionary Friend ($25,000). To join, visit www.centerforbrainhealth.org/friends.

Center for BrainHealth

EEG Study Findings Reveal How Fear is Processed in the Brain

Monday, September 15, 2014

An estimated 8% of Americans will suffer from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at some point during their lifetime. Brought on by an overwhelming or stressful event or events, PTSD is the result of altered chemistry and physiology of the brain. Understanding how threat is processed in a normal brain versus one altered by PTSD is essential to developing effective interventions. 

New research from the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas published online today in Brain and Cognition illustrates how fear arises in the brain when individuals are exposed to threatening images. This novel study is the first to separate emotion from threat by controlling for the dimension of arousal, the emotional reaction provoked, whether positive or negative, in response to stimuli. Building on previous animal and human research, the study identifies an electrophysiological marker for threat in the brain.

“We are trying to find where thought exists in the mind,” explained John Hart, Jr., M.D., Medical Science Director at the Center for BrainHealth. “We know that groups of neurons firing on and off create a frequency and pattern that tell other areas of the brain what to do. By identifying these rhythms, we can correlate them with a cognitive unit such as fear.”

Utilizing electroencephalography (EEG), Dr. Hart’s research team identified theta and beta wave activity that signifies the brain’s reaction to visually threatening images. 

“We have known for a long time that the brain prioritizes threatening information over other cognitive processes,” explained Bambi DeLaRosa, study lead author. “These findings show us how this happens. Theta wave activity starts in the back of the brain, in it’s fear center – the amygdala – and then interacts with brain’s memory center - the hippocampus – before traveling to the frontal lobe where thought processing areas are engaged. At the same time, beta wave activity indicates that the motor cortex is revving up in case the feet need to move to avoid the perceived threat.” 

For the study, 26 adults (19 female, 7 male), ages 19-30 were shown 224 randomized images that were either unidentifiably scrambled or real pictures. Real pictures were separated into two categories: threatening (weapons, combat, nature or animals) and non-threatening (pleasant situations, food, nature or animals). 

While wearing an EEG cap, participants were asked to push a button with their right index finger for real items and another button with their right middle finger for nonreal/scrambled items. Shorter response times were recorded for scrambled images than the real images. There was no difference in reaction time for threatening versus non-threatening images. 

EEG results revealed that threatening images evoked an early increase in theta activity in the occipital lobe (the area in the brain where visual information is processed), followed by a later increase in theta power in the frontal lobe (where higher mental functions such as thinking, decision-making, and planning occur). A left lateralized desynchronization of the beta band, the wave pattern associated with motor behavior (like the impulse to run), also consistently appeared in the threatening condition.

This study will serve as a foundation for future work that will explore normal versus abnormal fear associated with an object in other atypical populations including individuals with PTSD.

This work was supported by the Berman Laboratory of Learning and Memory at The University of Texas at Dallas and the Jane and Bud Smith Distinguished Chair.

Center for BrainHealth

Longitudinal study explores white matter damage, cognition after traumatic axonal injury

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Traumatic Axonal Injury is a form of traumatic brain injury that can have detrimental effects on the integrity of the brain’s white matter and lead to cognitive impairments. A new study from the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas investigated white matter damage in the acute and chronic stages of a traumatic axonal injury in an effort to better understand what long-term damage may result.

The study, published online July 21 in the Journal of Neurotrauma, looked at 13 patients ages 16 to 60 with mild to severe brain injuries from the intensive care unit at a Level I trauma center. This group was matched to a cohort of 10 healthy individuals resembling the age, gender, and ethnicity of the patients. White matter integrity was measured using diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) in the acute stage of injury, at day one, and again at the chronic stage, seven months post-injury. In addition, neuropsychological assessments measured cognitive performance including processing speed, attention, learning and memory at both stages after injury.

“We intended to determine whether DTI could not only identify early compromise to white matter, but also demonstrate an association with functional and neuropsychological outcomes months post-injury,” said Carlos Marquez de la Plata, Ph.D., Assistant Director of Rehabilitation Research at Pate Rehabilitation in Dallas, Texas.

The study’s findings suggest DTI may be used to detect meaningful changes in white matter as early as one day after a traumatic brain injury. White matter integrity measured at the chronic stage was also found to significantly correlate with cognitive processing speed.

“On the first day after the injury, we found white matter integrity was compromised due to swelling in the brain,“ said the study’s lead author Alison Perez. “As the swelling subsided over time and the brain began to repair itself, we found that many of the damaged neurons that were unable to repair themselves began to die off, which appears to slow the speed of cognitive processing.”

Interestingly, the degree of white matter compromise detected early after injury was associated with markers of injury severity such as the number of days in the intensive care unit and hospital, but not to outcomes months later. 

At seven months post-injury, many of the patients’ cognitive performance improved including processing speed, divided attention, and short and long-term memory. In addition, patients with better white matter integrity at the chronic stage had the fastest processing speed.

By studying the long-term effects of a traumatic axonal injury at both the acute and chronic stages, researchers hope to assist in the advancement of future assessment and treatment options after a traumatic brain injury.

This work was funded through the U.S Department of Education, the National Institutes of Health/National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. 

Center for BrainHealth

Study: Brain imaging shows brain differences in risk-taking teens

Thursday, August 14, 2014

According to the CDC, unintentional injuries are the leading cause of death for adolescents. Compared to the two leading causes of death for all Americans, heart disease and cancer, a pattern of questionable decision-making in dire situations comes to light in teen mortality. New research from the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas investigating brain differences associated with risk-taking teens found that connections between certain brain regions are amplified in teens more prone to risk.

“Our brains have an emotional-regulation network that exists to govern emotions and influence decision-making,” explained the study’s lead author, Sam Dewitt. “Antisocial or risk-seeking behavior may be associated with an imbalance in this network.”

The study, published June 30 in Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, looked at 36 adolescents ages 12-17; eighteen risk-taking teens were age- and sex-matched to a group of 18 non-risk-taking teens. Participants were screened for risk-taking behaviors, such as drug and alcohol use, sexual promiscuity, and physical violence and underwent functional MRI (fMRI) scans to examine communication between brain regions associated with the emotional-regulation network. Interestingly, the risk-taking group showed significantly lower income compared to the non-risk taking group.

“Most fMRI scans used to be done in conjunction with a particular visual task. In the past several years, however, it has been shown that performing an fMRI scan of the brain during a ‘mind-wandering’ state is just as valuable,”said Sina Aslan, Ph.D., President of Advance MRI and Adjunct Assistant Professor at the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas.“In this case, brain regions associated with emotion and reward centers show increased connection even when they are not explicitly engaged.”

The study, conducted by Francesca Filbey, Ph.D., Director of Cognitive Neuroscience Research of Addictive Behaviors at the Center for BrainHealth and her colleagues, shows that risk-taking teens exhibit hyperconnectivity between the amygdala, a center responsible for emotional reactivity, and specific areas of the prefrontal cortex associated with emotion regulation and critical thinking skills. The researchers also found increased activity between areas of the prefrontal cortex and the nucleus accumbens, a center for reward sensitivity that is often implicated in addiction research.

“Our findings are crucial in that they help identify potential brain biomarkers that, when taken into context with behavioral differences, may help identify which adolescents are at risk for dangerous and pathological behaviors in the future,” Dewitt explained.

He also points out that even though the risk-taking group did partake in risky behavior, none met clinical criteria for behavioral or substance use disorders.

By identifying these factors early on, the research team hopes to have a better chance of providing effective cognitive strategies to help risk-seeking adolescents regulate their emotions and avoid risk-taking behavior and substance abuse.

Center for BrainHealth

Inspiring Human Brain Potential: RGK Foundation

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Advancing knowledge and realizing the human potential is at the core of the RGK Foundation's mission to improve society. "RGK Foundation recognizes brain science's immense capacity to transform individual health and productivity when translated into life-improving programs," said Gregory A. Kozmetsky, Chairman of RGK Foundation. "The Center for BrainHealth has developed solutions that are truly transformative, and we are excited to be collaborating with the Center on several fronts."

Based in Austin, TX, the RGK Foundaiton is an independent foundation that was established by Ronya and George Kozmetsky in 1966. Aaron, the founders' grandson, and his wife Tracey live in Dallas and have been contributing their personal gives of time, talent and funds to the Center for the last several years. A proponent of the Center's high performance brain training program called Strategic Memory Advanced Reasoning Training (SMART), Tracey explained her enthusiasm, "If you apply the Center's high performance brain training strategies, you will really see a difference in how your brain functions on a daily basis. Adopting the skills has helped me think more strategically, more creatively and more meaningfully." She added, "The principles span generations and apply to every lifestyle. We are able to incorporate them with our teenage children, our parents and in our professional and personal endeavors."

In its most recent grant to the Center for BrainHealth, the RGK Foundation donated $500,000 to expand two existing higher performance brain training initiatives in Austin, San Antonio, and the greater Central Texas area.

The programs will be delivered through the Center for BrainHeatlh's translational arm, the Brain Performance Institute. One initiative, known as Warrior SMART, is tailored to empower current and former military service members on and off the battlefiled. The other initative, called Adolescent SMART, focuses on helping middle school students reach their full academic and personal potential.

"These programs target populations dear to the foundation's heart: those who honor our country service in the military and our nation's youth," said Aaron Kozmetsky.

"The continued expansion of the Adolescent SMART program is important for advancing the Center's goal to increase student achievement and reasoning ability, regardless of socioeconomic status, in diverse communities," explained Jacquelyn Gamino, Ph.D., director of the Adolescent Reasoning Initiative

As a kick-off to the RGK Foundation sponsored initiative, teachers from Central Texas School districts have traveled to the Center for BrainHealth this summer to learn how to implement SMART in their middle school classrooms. RGK funds will also support a regional liaison in Austin who will help the Adolescent Reasoning Dallas-based team maintain the SMART program's fidelity and collect research data.   

RGK Foundation support for Warrior SMART began by deploying brain training teams to Texas State Technical College in Waco and The University of Texas at San Antonio where there are large veteran student populations. 

"We are grateful for RGK's support in this strategic move that helped us reach an area with one of the highest concentrations of veterans and active-duty service members in the United States," said Matthew Neyland, head of the Warrior Training Team and former U.S. Marine Corps Officer. "Our training leverages leadership and strategic thinking skills learned in the military, bridging the transition from the battlefiled to civilian life."

"We are deeply grateful to The RGK Foundation and the Kozmetsky family," said Sandra Bond Chapman, Ph.D., the Center's founder and chief director. "They are truly agents of change pushing forward better brain health for all."                                        

Center for BrainHealth

Study: Marijuana Dependence Alters the Brain’s Response to Drug Paraphernalia

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

New research from the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas demonstrates that drug paraphernalia triggers the reward areas of the brain differently in dependent and non-dependent marijuana users.

The study, published July 1 in Drug and Alcohol Dependence, demonstrated that different areas of the brain activated when dependent and non-dependent users were exposed to drug-related cues.

The 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health shows marijuana is the most widely used illicit drug in the United States. According to a 2013 survey from the Pew Research Center, 48 percent of Americans ages 18 and older have tried marijuana. The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that 9 percent of daily users will become dependent on marijuana.

“We know that people have a hard time staying abstinent because seeing cues for the drug use triggers this intense desire to seek out the drugs,” said Dr. Francesca Filbey, lead author of the study and professor at the Center for BrainHealth in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences. “That’s a clinically validated phenomenon and behavioral studies have also shown this to be the case. What we didn’t know was what was driving those effects in the brain.”

To find this effect, Filbey and colleagues conducted brain-imaging scans, called functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), on 71 participants who regularly used marijuana. Just more than half of those were classified as dependent users. While being scanned, the participants were given either a used marijuana pipe or a pencil of approximately the same size that they could see and feel.

A comparison of the images revealed that the nucleus accumbens, the reward region in the brain, was activated in all users in response to the pipe. However, the strengths of the connections with other areas differed between dependent and non-dependent users.

“We found that the reward network is actually being driven by other areas unrelated to reward, like the areas in memory and attention or emotion,” Filbey said.

Non-dependent users showed greater activations in the orbital frontal cortex and hippocampus, suggesting that memory and attention were connected to the activation of the reward network. Dependent users had greater activations in the amygdala and anterior cingulate gyrus, suggesting a more emotional connection. Additionally, the areas of the brain activated resemble areas activated for other addictions, such as nicotine or cocaine, lending greater support to the addictiveness of marijuana.

These findings suggest that marijuana abuse intervention needs to cater more specifically to a user’s level of addiction.

"Clinicians treating people with problems with marijuana dependence should consider the different processes that trigger the reward response when determining possible pharmacological or behavioral interventions,” Filbey said.

Dr. Joseph Dunlop, researcher at UT Dallas, also worked on the study. Research was conducted in part at the Mind Research Network and was funded by a grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Center for BrainHealth

Center for BrainHealth’s Young Professionals Group Raises $50,000 for Autism Research

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Think Ahead Group (TAG), the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas’ young professionals group, has awarded $50,000 to help individuals with autism achieve more socially engaged lives and advantageous futures.   

“According to the Centers for Disease Control, one in 68 American children are on the autism spectrum, “ explained Tandra Allen, M.S., who is the lead clinician on the Center’s social cognition project. “Those diagnosed experience social cognition difficulties, or challenges with communication, social interaction and learning. Through our virtual reality training program, we provide a realistic, safe, no-fail environment to experience situations that are often difficult for those on the autism spectrum.”

Combining proven training methods with the latest in virtual reality face-emotion tracking software, the Center for BrainHealth’s program immerses participants in a virtual city -- complete with a coffee shop, apartment complex, movie theatre, grocery store, office building, playground, basketball court and school. Research utilizing the program shows documented improvements in recognizing emotions, understanding the intentions of others, and being able to respond appropriately in various social situations including job interviews, academic settings, and dating.

“Video games are fun, and this is therapy disguised as a high-tech game with state-of-the-art graphics, real-time face tracking and personalized avatars. Participants don’t realize that while they are having fun, their brains are changing to positively affect future real-world scenarios,” said Carl Lutz, head of Center for BrainHealth’s Virtual Reality Lab.

Until recently the program was only available to those research participants who were able to come to the Center for BrainHealth or visit the Child Study Center at Yale University Yale School of Medicine who is collaborating with the team at the Center.

TAG’s funding will support the development and expansion of the current program to a wider, in-home audience. The grant will allow Center for BrainHealth clinicians to provide remote training opportunities via laptops that have been outfitted with the virtual reality program. The funds will also supply portable technology components, such as a web-cam, that will be shipped to participants and mailed back with the laptop when the training is complete.

“With this gift, we will be able to reach those who cannot physically visit the Center for BrainHealth but who can still be positively impacted by this virtual environment,” said Allen. “We have seen so many inspiring success stories with those who have completed the 10-session program at the Center, but it has been heartbreaking to have to turn away people due to geographic limitations. Now we will be able to reach many more people of all ages on the autism spectrum.”

“As young professionals in Dallas, we are keenly aware that brain health affects everyone and every generation,” said TAG president, Dan Harris. “We are very proud to be able to reach diverse populations through the Center for BrainHealth’s life-changing programs. This year we are focusing on individuals with autism, but in previous years, grants have supported initiatives for military veterans as well as older adults facing mild cognitive impairment.”  

Since TAG’s inception in 2009, the group has raised more than $360,000 in support of Center for BrainHealth research. The majority of funds are amassed via their annual Kentucky Derby Party, which was chaired this year by Katie Bivins and Halley Homen and sponsored by Sewell Automotive Companies. About 300 people attended the benefit held on May 3 at Dallas Arboretum’s DeGolyer Mansion.

Center for BrainHealth

Bipolar Study Seeks to Add Side-Effect Free Approach to Brain Disorder

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Bipolar disorder is one of the most prevalent manic-depressive illnesses affecting approximately 5.7 million adult Americans every year. It causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and hinders the ability to carry out daily tasks. Although it cannot be cured, it can be treated effectively. A new Center for BrainHealth study will investigate the effects of the Center’s high performance brain training program called SMART on the mental health and cognitive performance of individuals who have been diagnosed with the disorder.

The study is being funded by friends of the Center, Debbie and Bill Dunlap. “We realize that individuals with bipolar disorder are often very bright and creative,” explained Debbie Dunlap. “We want to help maximize their potential. Our desire is to see them achieve greater success in life through the SMART program.” Although not previously studied in bipolar disorder, SMART has been scientifically proven in several populations including healthy aging adults, those with traumatic brain injury and teenagers. This novel pilot study will measure changes in cognition, real life functionality, and brain imaging data. Erin Venza, M.S. CCC-SLP, the clinician spearheading the study, explained, “Working memory and attention are common complaints in individuals with bipolar disorder. We believe that this training will greatly enhance cognitive and neural functioning in this group of adults and also incite white matter generation.”

If you or someone you know may be interested in participating in the study, please click here for more information.

Center for BrainHealth