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

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  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 $270,000

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 $270,000 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 four 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.

“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

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

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

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

Study finds cognitive performance can be improved in teens months,years after traumatic brain injury

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Traumatic brain injuries from sports, recreational activities, falls or car accidents are the leading cause of death and disability in children and adolescents. While previously it was believed that the window for brain recovery was at most one year after injury, new research from the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas published online today in the open-access journal Frontiers in Neurology shows cognitive performance can be improved to significant degrees months, and even years, after injury, given targeted brain training.

"The after-effects of concussions and more severe brain injuries can be very different and more detrimental to a developing child or adolescent brain than an adult brain," said Dr. Lori Cook, study author and director of the Center for BrainHealth's pediatric brain injury programs. "While the brain undergoes spontaneous recovery in the immediate days, weeks, and months following a brain injury, cognitive deficits may continue to evolve months to years after the initial brain insult when the brain is called upon to perform higher-order reasoning and critical thinking tasks."

Twenty adolescents, ages 12-20 who experienced a traumatic brain injury at least six months prior to participating in the research and were demonstrating gist reasoning deficits, or the inability to "get the essence" from dense information, were enrolled in the study. The participants were randomized into two different cognitive training groups – strategy-based gist reasoning training versus fact-based memory training.

Participants completed eight, 45-minute sessions over a one-month period. Researchers compared the effects of the two forms of training on the ability to abstract meaning and recall facts. Testing included pre- and post-training assessments, in which 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.

After training, only the gist-reasoning group showed significant improvement in the ability to abstract meanings – a foundational cognitive skill to everyday life functionality. Additionally, the gist-reasoning-trained group showed significant generalized gains to untrained areas including executive functions of working memory (i.e., holding information in mind for use – such as performing mental addition or subtraction ) and inhibition (i.e., filtering out irrelevant information). The gist-reasoning training group also demonstrated increased memory for facts, even though this skill was not specifically targeted in training.

"These preliminary results are promising in that higher-order cognitive training that focuses on 'big picture' thinking improves cognitive performance in ways that matter to everyday life success," said Dr. Cook. "What we found was that training higher-order cognitive skills can have a positive impact on untrained key executive functions as well as lower-level, but also important, processes such as straightforward memory, which is used to remember details. While the study sample was small and a larger trial is needed, the real-life application of this training program is especially important for adolescents who are at a very challenging life-stage when they face major academic and social complexities. These cognitive challenges require reasoning, filtering, focusing, planning, self-regulation, activity management and combating 'information overload,' which is one of the chief complaints that teens with concussions express."

This research advances best practices by implicating changes to common treatment schedules for traumatic brain injury and concussion. The ability to achieve cognitive gains through a brain training treatment regimen at chronic stages of brain injury (6 months or longer) supports the need to monitor brain recovery annually and offer treatment when deficits persist or emerge later.

"Brain injuries require routine follow-up monitoring. We need to make sure that optimized brain recovery continues to support later cognitive milestones, and that is especially true in the case of adolescents," said Dr. Sandra Bond Chapman, study author, founder and chief director of the Center for BrainHealth and Dee Wyly Distinguished University Chair at The University of Texas at Dallas. "What's promising is that no matter the severity of the injury or the amount of time since injury, brain performance improved when teens were taught how to strategically process incoming information in a meaningful way, instead of just focusing on rote memorization."

Center for BrainHealth

Know Science. No Stigma.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Tina Bass, M.S., LPC is part of the Center for BrainHealth’s post traumatic stress disorder research team that is investigating new interventions to help returning service members. She shares her thoughts below on ending the stigma associated with mental health issues and post traumatic stress disorder. To learn more about the Center’s work with military service members, click here. For more information about our post traumatic stress disorder study, in particular, click here.

Bipolar. Anxiety. Schizophrenia. Depression. Post traumatic stress disorder. Matters of mental health often carry negative connotations and stigmas that are furthered by lack of public awareness, inaccurate knowledge, limited understanding of the realities of mental health issues and personal and societal fear.

Broadly de-stigmatizing mental health issues and post traumatic stress disorder, in particular, will require a long-term, sustained effort. A first step is knowing the science.

Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is defined as the failure of the natural recovery process to unusual stress or trauma. Sustained symptoms can be the outcome of experiencing an event or series of events that are life threatening or can cause serious injury to an individual or others close to the individual. This often results in feeling intense fear, horror, or feeling an inability to control what is happening. Almost all individuals who are exposed to these types of situations have to cope with some of the 20 symptoms associated with PTSD. These symptoms are classified into four categories including: re-experiencing events, hyper-arousal, avoidance, and negative changes in thoughts and feelings. If these symptoms do not resolve on their own over time, an individual may meet criteria for PTSD.

PTSD is an injury like a broken arm. It is a neurobiological adaptation sustained as a result of an overwhelming or stressful event or events, and the chemistry and physiology of the brain are changed. This change need not be permanent, and, like a broken arm, is treatable. PTSD is not a mental weakness, nor is it some self-inflicted emotional problem. No one seems to think that it is a character issue if you have a cavity, a broken arm, or multiple sclerosis.

Individuals affected by mental health issues experience quality of life limitations personally, socially, and occupationally, and have the additional burden bearing the stigma of mental health issues as well. The most serious outcome is that stigma becomes a barrier to seeking treatment and typically forces individuals to pursue other forms of relief such as self-medication via drugs and alcohol or complete avoidance and isolation, which only add another layer to the problem.

Let’s each do our part to know the science and end the stigma associated with mental health challenges.

To learn more about the Center’s work with military service members, click here. For more information about our post traumatic stress disorder study, in particular, click here.

To learn more about the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation's campaign, “Know Science. No Stigma”, click here.

Center for BrainHealth

BrainHealth Research Shows Strategic Thinking Strengthens Intellectual Capacity

Monday, April 28, 2014

Strategy-based cognitive training has the potential to enhance cognitive performance and spill over to real-life benefit according to a data-driven perspective article by the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas published in the open-access journal Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience. The research-based perspective highlights cognitive, neural and real-life changes measured in randomized clinical trials that compared a gist-reasoning strategy-training program to memory training in populations ranging from teenagers to healthy older adults, individuals with brain injury to those at-risk for Alzheimer’s disease.

“Our brains are wired to be inspired,” said Dr. Sandra Bond Chapman, founder and chief director of the Center for BrainHeath and Dee Wyly Distinguished University Chair at The University of Texas at Dallas. “One of the key differences in our studies from other interventional research aimed at improving cognitive abilities is that we did not focus on specific cognitive functions such as speed of processing, memory, or learning isolated new skills. Instead, the gist reasoning training program encouraged use of a common set of multi-dimensional thinking strategies to synthesize information and elimination of toxic habits that impair efficient brain performance.”

The training across the studies was short, ranging from 8 to 12 sessions delivered over one to two months in 45 to 60 minute time periods. The protocol focused on three cognitive strategies -- strategic attention, integrated reasoning and innovation. These strategies are hierarchical in nature and can be broadly applied to most complex daily life mental activities.

At a basic level, research participants were encouraged to filter competing information that is irrelevant and focus only on important information. At more advanced levels, participants were instructed to generate interpretations, themes or generalized statements from information they were wanting or needing to read, for example. Each strategy built on previous strategies and research participants were challenged to integrate all steps when tackling mental activities both inside and outside of training.

“Cognitive gains were documented in trained areas such as abstracting, reasoning, and innovating,” said Chapman. “And benefits also spilled over to untrained areas such as memory for facts, planning, and problem solving. What’s exciting about this work is that in randomized trials comparing gist reasoning training to memory training, we found that it was not learning new information that engaged widespread brain networks and elevated cognitive performance, but rather actually deeper processing of information and using that information in new ways that augmented brain performance.

Strengthening intellectual capacity is no longer science fiction; what used to seem improbable is now in the realm of reality.”

Positive physical changes within the brain and cognitive improvement across populations in response to strategy-based mental training demonstrate the neuro-regenerative potential of the brain.

“The ability to recognize, synthesize and create the essence of complex ideas and problems to solve are fundamental skills for academic, occupational and real-life success,” Chapman said. “The capacity to enhance cognition and complex neural networks in health, after injury or disease diagnosis will have major implications to preventing, diagnosing and treating cognitive decline and enhancing cognitive performance in youth to prepare them for an unknown future and in middle age to older adults who want to remain mentally robust.”

Center for BrainHealth

Inaugural Brain Health Summit Focused On Resilience and Regeneration

Friday, April 25, 2014

On April 28, the Center for BrainHealth brought together national experts to discuss solutions to our most pressing brain-related challenges at its inaugural Brain Health Summit, titled "The Human Brain: Resilience and Regeneration."

Summit participants garnered insights to important initiatives designed to improve our nation’s brain health through research, education and implementation programs to improve brain performance. Panel discussions and keynote presentations focused on innovative research advances, awareness efforts and practical application to promote brain health fitness for all ages and stages including students, healthy aging adults, athletes and military service members.

Watch videos of the keynote presentations and panel discussions here.

Speakers and panelists included:

"Pioneering research has shown that the brain is capable of substantive improvement in cognitive capacity and performance across the lifespan,” said Dr. Sandra Bond Chapman, founder and chief director of the Center for BrainHealth. “The focus of the summit was to raise awareness of this important fact, to incite new research directions and encourage everyone to take steps to strengthen their brains today.”

The 2014 Summit kicked off the Center for BrainHealth’s new national effort to increase brain health fitness, which also includes the launch of

"We are thrilled to announce the launch of which will provide visitors with timely insight into matters of the mind," Chapman said. "The safety, preservation and improvement of the human brain have risen to the top of our national discourse, and we are proud to provide a platform highlighting the very latest on brain health, brain injury and brain disease.” is the gateway to curated, scientifically relevant news and opinion on the brain from around the world. The site houses video from the inaugural Brain Health Summit, including panel discussions and keynote speeches. Watch videos of the keynote presentations and panel discussions here.

Center for BrainHealth

Don’t Accept Underperformance, Teach Kids How to Think

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Problem solving is a critical skill, particularly for young children whose brains are rapidly developing. Navigating complex problems and exercising innovation is at the core of brain performance and student readiness.

Fortunately, this is an area where U.S. students are proving strong – though there is still room for improvement when compared to their international peers.

The latest results released by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, show that American scores on the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) exams assessing problem-solving skills were above the average of those in the developed world.  While I don’t want to diminish the good news here, the bad news is they trailed several countries in Asia and Europe as well as Canada.  And let’s not forget U.S. scores for the PISA exams in reading, math, and science haven’t improved in a decade.

I say we can do better. The key is teaching how to think, rather than what to think. This idea is central to an approach developed at the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas-- one that emphasizes the fourth “R” of education: reasoning. 

Based on our research about adolescent brain development, we have begun implementing a curriculum we call Strategic Memory Advanced Reasoning Training, or SMART, which focuses on enhancing brain processes such as mental flexibility, innovation, problem-solving, reasoning and strategic thinking among middle-school students. SMART is a top-down approach to learning that helps students develop context and meaning from the massive amount of information they take in every day. The idea is to encourage students to glean the big picture first, and then support it with details next. Research shows our brains work better that way, and yet it’s opposite of what’s put in most schools. 

Students in our program are given over one month, 10 sessions by a trained SMART teacher who offers techniques for uncovering deeper meanings and discarding irrelevant information. Instead of asking students to underline key points, the training challenges students to mark out at least 50% or more of the extraneous information so the major ideas rise to the top. We find trying to learn every piece of information presented without being selective overwhelms students’ brains.  Nationally, more than 25,000 students have received SMART training and the benefits have been profound.

Our research shows that the approach helps affluent and poor alike. In fact, we have already seen that SMART can be a catalyst for academic success for students in the Dallas Independent School District, many of whom have grown up in poverty.

Results from a pilot project for eighth graders at Thomas J. Rusk Middle School in Dallas are extremely promising. Rusk’s student body is 82 percent Hispanic and 13 percent African-American, and 91 percent of children received free or reduced-price lunch because of low household income[1] (nationally, 68 percent of students get free or reduced lunch).[2]

Prior to participating in SMART, 95 percent of students did not meet age-based criteria for critical reasoning skills. But after four weeks in the program, SMART participants showed more than a 50 percent improvement in critical reasoning scores, while their peers in the control group did not improve significantly.  Additionally, all of the SMART participants passed the reading portion on TAKS. So did the benefits last? Four years later as seniors, 80% of those students were on track to graduate and 74% of them were in more than three Advanced Placement classes.

Teaching our students to reason enhances their abilities to think strategically, allowing them not only to remember important facts but also to create new ideas. 

Einstein once said: “Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”

I couldn’t agree more. Innovative thinking is the richest natural resource that we have. Developing critical skill will help with all subjects, and prepare students to thrive in the complex world of adulthood.

Underperformance in academics among American teenagers is a problem we can solve.  Focusing on critical reasoning skills through programs like SMART will improve the ability of all students, regardless socioeconomic status, to succeed at school and in life, and help close the gap with our global neighbors. 



Center for BrainHealth

Researchers Win Grant to Fund Study of Multiple Sclerosis

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Two Center for BrainHealth researchers have been awarded a grant to study a common complaint among many multiple sclerosis sufferers — difficulty understanding spoken language.

The National Multiple Sclerosis Society has awarded Dr. John Hart, the Center for BrainHealth’s medical science director and Jane and Bud Smith Distinguished Chair, and Dr. Gail Tillman, research scientist and electroencephalography lab director at the center, more than $690,000 for a three-year study to investigate neural markers related to the frequent problem.

“Understanding language is very complex,” Hart said. “In addition to good hearing, it requires remembering what was said earlier in a conversation and even what was said earlier in each sentence. It requires being able to pay attention and knowing what words mean.

"Because being unable to follow conversations can have such a substantial and negative impact on social and work functioning at many levels, understanding this deficit is vitally important to the quality of life of those diagnosed with MS.”

Multiple sclerosisis a disease of the central nervous system that affects more than 2.3 million people worldwide. Although not usually fatal, the disease can be debilitating since it involves the body’s immune system attacking its own central nervous system including the brain, optic nerves, and spinal cord. Almost half of all people diagnosed will develop problems with cognitive functions, such as following conversations.

As part of the study, Hart and Tillman will use electroencephalography (EEG), which measures electrical activity in the brain, to gauge the speed from the point at which the sound of a word enters the ear to when the brain has processed its meaning.

“Compared to other imaging technologies, EEG is much more sensitive to processing speed,” Tillman said. “We can measure how quickly the brain is moving from one process to the next using the millisecond time scale of the EEG. This is critical because MS damages the brain’s white matter, which is vital for the fast and accurate transmission of signals from one part of the brain to another.”

The study will include 50 multiple sclerosis patients who suffer from speech comprehension problems, 50 other multiple sclerosis patients who do not and 50 healthy people. The aim is to identify specific characteristics and associations between patterns of disability and evidence of the disease at key locations along the auditory and language processing streams.

The Center for BrainHealth will work closely with the Clinical Center for Multiple Sclerosis at UT Southwestern and its director, neurologist Elliott M. Frohman.

Center for BrainHealth

Symposium Focuses on Brain Connectivity in Health and Disease

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Center for BrainHealth hosted Reprogramming the Brain to Health, an annual symposium that brings together top neuroscientists and medical investigators to share breakthroughs in brain research, on April 10.

This year’s symposium focused on the topic of “Brain Connectivity in Health and Disease.” Keynote speaker Dr. Floyd Bloom, chairman emeritus of the department of neuropharmacology at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif., received the Dr. Charles L. Branch BrainHealth Award for his contributions to the understanding of the dopamine system and its role in brain health and brain decline.

The symposium is held in partnership with the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute at the University of California, Berkeley.

Since 2010, the Branch Award has honored neuroscientists who have made noteworthy breakthroughs in brain discoveries. Bloom was the first to receive the award since its namesake, Dr. Charles Branch Sr., died last year. Branch was a leading research scholar, neurosurgeon, humanitarian and brain-mapping pioneer.

“Dr. Bloom has been a major force urgently pushing forward the need for biomedical discoveries to be more rapidly transformed into meaningful advances in health care for society today,” said Dr.  Sandra Bond Chapman, BrainHealth’s founder and chief director, and Dee Wyly Distinguished University Chair. “For that reason, the Center for BrainHealth is closely aligned with his life mission.”

A leading medical expert in neuroscience, neurology and psychiatry, Bloom is a renowned physician-combined neuroscientist and editor of a book written as the consumer’s “bible” for the brain, The Dana Guide to Brain Health. Dr. Michael Gazzaniga, the first Branch Award recipient, will present the award.

Center for BrainHealth

BrainHealth Joins National Consortium to Study Marijuana Addiction

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has awarded a $500,000 grant to fund the Imaging Data in Emerging Adults with Addiction (IDEAA) Consortium — a large marijuana research data collection undertaking.

Center for BrainHealth is partnering with Harvard University, the University of California, San Diego and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee to gain a greater scientific understanding of marijuana and its effects.

“As part of the consortium, we will collect and pool brain-imaging data from marijuana users and nonusers, focusing on regions that control rational decisions and emotional responses," said Dr. Francesca Filbey, associate professor in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences and director of cognitive neuroscience research of addictive behaviors at the Center for BrainHealth. "In healthy individuals, these highly interconnected regions maintain a balance. However, in individuals suffering from addiction, emotions and cravings can overturn reasoning and hijack decision-making.”

Filbey’s team will process the consortium's imaging data investigating the brain at rest. The consortium will help answer the larger questions of marijuana addiction: What are the risk factors that leave some more vulnerable to addiction? What are the detrimental effects of marijuana? What factors promote brain healing and addiction recovery?

Each IDEAA consortium partner will collect a uniform set of neuroimaging measures and will share data on a central IDEAA server, where it will be analyzed. The compiled results will culminate in a large dataset of adolescent to emerging adult marijuana users.

“Researchers are often kept from answering some bigger questions due to the limitations of smaller neuroimaging studies,” said Tim McQueeny, a research associate who recently joined Filbey’s team to help support the new initiative. “The consortium reduces many of those restrictions."

Large datasets that are too costly for one research site to accrue will now be available to all four institutions. The combined data represents all regions of the nation, and can therefore be generalizable.

“Perhaps most important, the IDEAA Consortium will give investigators the power to detect large and small differences, which will promote the discovery of new treatments,” McQueeny said.

Center for BrainHealth

BrainHealth Collaborates with Yale: Virtual Triumph, Real World Success

Friday, April 4, 2014

“I want to learn how to make a friend” is the first request Tandra Allen, social cognition project coordinator at the Center for BrainHealth, usually hears when talking to adolescents with autism.

The transition into adulthood is rarely smooth, but autism poses communication challenges that can derail typical milestones. Establishing relationships or beginning a career are hard to do when knowing how to interpret and react to others’ emotions and body language does not come easily.

For the first time, the Center for BrainHealth and the Child Study Center at Yale University Yale School of Medicine are collaborating to help young adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) achieve economic and social independence. “It is the technology of tomorrow, today,” explains Daniel Yang, Ph.D., postdoctoral researcher at the Child Study Center at Yale University. “Combining BrainHealth’s virtual reality service model with Yale’s fMRI and EEG techniques, we are able to help individuals with autism and, at the same time, track changes in the brain.”

For more than six years, BrainHealth’s virtual reality program has provided realistic and dynamic opportunities to succeed in social situations. Study findings published recently in the Journal of Autism Developmental Disorders reveal that this cutting-edge technology is a promising tool for improving social skills, cognition, and functioning in autism. “Participants’ scores significantly improve in areas of emotional recognition, as well as the ability to understand and respond to what others are thinking, in as little as five weeks,” said Tandra Allen. “They feel that the training improves their conversation skills. It’s very exciting to be taking this initiative nationwide.”

Carl Lutz, the head of BrainHealth’s virtual reality lab, explained why this works.

“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.”

Carly McCullar, a recent UT Dallas graduate who was diagnosed several years ago with ASD, went through the Center’s social cognition training during her senior year. The training taught her to handle dynamic situations such as job interviews, a problem with a neighbor, and
even dating.

“This is real life. If you can succeed in the alternate reality, you can do it for real,” Carly explained. This summer she passed her TExES 191 Early Childhood - 6th Grade Generalist Exam and was subsequently hired to teach Pre-K at W.W. Bushman Elementary School in Dallas. “I wouldn’t have been able to interview and do what I’m doing if it weren’t for the training,” she said. Ms. McCullar also reports, “I have now made real friends, long-lasting friends whom I know I will maintain relationships with. I now truly understand what friendship means and value its importance.”

The researchers hope to prove that the social brain in autism can be rewired with training.

Dr. Yang expounded, “I hope through this collaboration we will help build a service model that can generalize to many other regions in the United States.”

To see BrainHealth's founder and chief director's recent blog for The Huffington Post titled "Insight Into Autism: The Latest Brain Research," click here.

Center for BrainHealth

Faculty Chairs Honor Debbie and Jim Francis and The Meadows Foundation

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A crowd of family members, colleagues and benefactors gathered to pay tribute as UT Dallas celebrated 15 of its most accomplished faculty members with a formal Investiture Ceremony and reception March 18.

The ceremony honored both the distinguished faculty members and the far-sighted donors who helped establish the endowed chairs and professorships, President David E. Daniel said.

“Without this partnership — key leaders who help invest in the future of the University and great faculty members who bring that vision to realization — we would not be the kind of University that we are,” Dr. Daniel said.

For their enduring commitment and generous support, the Center for BrainHealth established two named chairs in honor of Debbie and Jim Francis and The Meadows Foundation.  Daniel Krawczyk, Ph.D. and Bart Rypma, Ph.D. hold the Debbie and Jim Francis Chair in BrainHealth and The Meadows Foundation Chair in Behavioral Brain Science, respectively. Both have made significant research contributions to advance the Center for BrainHealth’s mission to understand, protect and heal the brain.

“The Meadows Foundation Chair will provide a tremendous opportunity to deepen our understanding of changes that take place in the aging brain, “ said Dr. Rypma. “It will also aid in revealing the complex underpinnings of multiple sclerosis and new avenues to improved treatment outcomes.”

“Debbie and Jim have been inspiring forces for a long time,” said Dr. Krawczyk. “Holding this chair in their name is really a permanent tribute to their efforts and all of the treatments, interventions and trainings that will result because of it. By creating new knowledge we are improving peoples’ lives and their brain health.”

UT Dallas has more than 100 chairs and professorships, the highest academic awards that the University can bestow on a faculty member. Funding generated by the establishment of a chair or professorship plays a critical role in assisting faculty members to advance their instructional programs and research.

Investitures are one of the oldest traditions in academia, dating back more than 500 years. They originated in England as a way for universities to honor their most accomplished scholars. 

Center for BrainHealth

Are Your Daily Habits Toxic To Your Brain Health?

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Are your daily habits harmful or helpful to your brain's health? Find out if your daily routine is toxic to your brain's health and learn tips to improve brain's performance by downloading the infographic below that was created in partnership with our friends at The Container Store and made possible by their generosity.

Click here to download the infographic.

Center for BrainHealth

Your Brain Doesn’t Have to Decline As You Age

Thursday, March 13, 2014

This week is Brain Awareness Week; while most people only focus on their brain after an injury or disease diagnosis, so much can be done to maximize brain performance in health. Just as we've come to realize that we can better our bodies through diet and exercise, so, too, can we improve our own brain's performance.

Hubertus von Hohenlohe, an alpine skier, turned 55 shortly after the Winter Olympics began in Sochi, becoming the oldest competitor at the Games. While he didn’t win a medal, Von Hohenlohe – who is also a businessman, pop singer, and photographer – was a worldwide inspiration as he competed alongside athletes less than half his age. He demonstrated that physical health doesn’t have an age limit. Neither, you might be surprised to learn, does brain health.

Thanks to scientific advances, many people now live to 100 and beyond; there are 12,000 centenarians in England alone, a five-fold increase in 30 years and one in three infants born today is predicted to live to 100 years. Yet few healthy aging adults maintain peak brain performance throughout their lives. In fact, science has shown that cognitive brain performance peaks in our early 40s. With better public health policies, we can improve the brain health of everyone – including the oldest Americans – to better extend our brain span to match our extended lifespan.

Unfortunately,we have grown to expect cognitive decline as an inevitable consequence of aging. Some cognitive skills do slip with age such as speed and quantity of learning capacity. However, a healthy aging brain can continually strengthen drawing on its rich knowledge, experience and wisdom to enhance the decision-making and critical reasoning skills that are essential to independent living. In fact,the majority of seniors aged 85 and older manifest a potential for well-preserved intellect, capacity for new learning, and sound decision making.

Yet, most of us still believe that our best brain years are in the past. Changing this way of thinking is imperative to improving the cognitive health of this nation. In order to do this, we must recognize two major misconceptions about aging in a healthy brain:

First, aging itself is not a disease. Differences exist between healthy brain aging and brain disease in an aging brain. For example, Alzheimer’s is a disease that afflicts the elderly, but it is not, nor are other kinds of dementia, an inevitable consequence of aging. Age alone is not a key predictor of hindered or impaired cognitive abilities later in life.

Second, we are not stuck with the brain that we have today. Consciously maintaining brain health must become an integralpart of managing our overall health and wellness. Responsible lifestyle choices are necessary to promote and enhance brain health throughout life.

The truth is that our brain changes and adapts moment-to-moment depending on how we use it. Thus, it is important to know what habits enhance brain performance and which ones are detrimental to healthy brain performance. Putting healthy thinking strategies into practice and stopping toxic habits will help to add years to cognitive brain performance to more closely match the increased life expectancy.

Brain overuse equals underutilized potential. Just like unrelenting and constant physical exercise causes overexertion and bodily injury, constant mental work is harmful to the brain. Not giving the brain the downtime it needs depletes its overall health, productivity and ability to innovate.

For better brain health it is also important to avoid cruising on automatic pilot. Life moves fast, and we often compensate by falling into routine, sticking to the path of least resistance, and letting our thoughts, conversations and activities become stagnant. Rote memorization and regurgitation of information at the lowest level fails to challenge our brain to do what it loves best: innovate. Allowing your brain to function at this low level fails to strengthen the connections in your brain. Your brain is changing, but in an unwanted negative decline. Instead, start thinking like a reporter, and synthesize ideas in new ways. After enjoying a movie, book or news article think deeply, and formulate succinct take-away messages.

Research shows that higher performing minds are not more efficient at knowing what to pay attention to, but rather, what to block out. Our brain is exposed to an unrelenting stream of information via various sources of technology and media as well as an overabundance of input from family and social responsibilities. This constant state of information-overload degrades the brain’s natural ability to block out irrelevant information, decreasing efficiency and performance. To help boost your brain’s blocker, limit what you take and make it your prerogative to temporarily unplug from technology daily. Start with 15-minute intervals and work your way up. You will find that disconnecting will prime your brain for deeper thinking.

Our brain is at least as modifiable, if not more so, than any other part of our body.  Taking advantage of a unique quality known as neuroplasticity, the brain’s inherent ability to adapt and change throughout life, you can train your brain for health and productivity. You would not go through life sitting on the couch or running a marathon every day and still expect to remain in perfect physical health.  Nor can you expect your brain to remain in prime condition if you leave it on autopilot exempt from new challenges or keep it constantly exhausted with nonstop work.

We should all make a concerted effort to take advantage of the vast opportunities for modifying declining brain performance, keeping in mind that the window for action is not restricted to early life, but extends throughout life – in health, in injury and in disease.

Let’s change the negative framing of brain aging and instead harness the potential of our brain’s capacity across the lifespan. It is not likely that any pill or quick fix alone will make a lasting difference on cognitive performance. And why should we expect that? The human brain may quite possibly be the most complex engine ever designed. Public policy and individual efforts should focus on encouraging strategies to maintain and optimize brain health fitness. In doing so, we will reap the rewards of nurturing our greatest asset and natural resource – the brain – for the rest of our lives.

Center for BrainHealth

Center for BrainHealth Partners with NFL Great to Touch Lives in Dallas School

Friday, March 7, 2014

The middle school years are when students gain crucial skills necessary for future academic and life success. Today, the Center for BrainHealth announced a partnership with LaDainian & Torsha Tomlinson's Touching Lives Foundation and its flagship initiative called Project XXI to further impact adolescent students, teachers and leadership at Thomas A. Edison Middle Learning Center in West Dallas.

The Center for BrainHealth and Project XXI have created SOAR (Students’ Outstanding Academic Rise) to promote healthy life habits and inspire teachers, students and parents to partner together for continued academic achievement. SOAR will complement the Center for BrainHealth-developed brain training program called SMART (Strategic Memory Advanced Reasoning Training) and is based on responsibility that requires all parties to attain specific conduct, activities, and academic enhancement on a daily basis.

“Our work with faculty and leadership at Edison is ongoing; it is the first middle school where we have infused the entire campus with our brain training program,” said Dr. Jacque Gamino, Director of the Center’s Adolescent Reasoning Initiative. “While we know that our brain training program induces cognitive change which leads to improved academic performance, we want to ensure that the students, teachers and parents at Edison are bolstered by support for healthy lifestyle goals and emboldened to be accountable to themselves and each other in their quest for academic success.”

"Torsha and I have become increasingly aware in the communities we serve that there are subsets of disadvantaged youth who are given up on because society deems they cannot be reached,” said LaDainian Tomlinson. “That is wholly unacceptable to us. Project XXI’s vision ultimately is to help children reach their full potential. Not some of them...all of them. Center for BrainHealth and Project XXI’s SOAR program is designed to address the students, educators and parents who are most responsible for individual success."

SOAR will include accountability measures from the students, teachers, and parents, such as educator-led curriculum enhancements and student demonstration of personal responsibility for learning. The focus of the initiative is to increase academic achievement and instill the resolve to succeed in the more than 600 students that attend Edison. Students, teachers and parents exhibiting the greatest improvement will be rewarded for their participation and accountability with Leadership Awards, memorabilia and even an unforgettable outing with LaDainian and Torsha to be announced at launch.

“To effect change, we must promote self-esteem,” Torsha Tomlinson continued. “We cannot let good enough be good enough, and parents must be a part of the solution. SOAR will provide monitoring and management of specific activities, goals, and incentives for students, teachers and parents and aims to improve academic performance individually.”

Center for BrainHealth researchers trained Edison teachers to implement SMART in their classrooms effectively and are continuing to work with the faculty to reach optimum outcomes. SMART encourages students to use higher-level thinking skills such as asking thoughtful questions and make meaningful connections to real world situations and discourage rote thinking and responses. Since 2006, Center for BrainHealth researchers have trained more than 25,000 students in five states, more than 300 teachers and more than 95 principals and school administrators.

“From our recent professional development training with Edison teachers, our team could not have been more impressed with the courageous commitment of the leadership and teachers on campus to positively impact and mentor the learning confidence of their students,” said Dr. Gamino. “By bringing research-based best practices to the school and encouraging accountability inside and outside of the walls of Edison, we hope to engage students in learning, spark innovation in the classroom, and dramatically affect student outcomes in life.”

Center for BrainHealth

Sleep to Improve Cognitive Performance

Monday, March 3, 2014

Center for BrainHealth advances the vital role of sleep to improve cognitive performance.

One of this year's renowned speakers for The Brain: An Owner's Guide lecture series made possible by the generosity and vision of The Container Store was Dr. James Maas.

His sold-out Sleeping for Success lecture sponsored by J. Baxter Brinkmann was held on February 11, 2014. Please enjoy this brief video interview in which Dr. Maas shares his expert sleep insights, tips and reasons why getting enough sleep is more important than you might think.

Center for BrainHealth

The Real 1%

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The recent census has our population at roughly 319,000,000, and simple math tells us that 1% of the above number equals 3,190,000. So much attention has been given to the 1% of wealthiest Americans, but I would like to focus on the post 9/11 veterans that, coincidentally, are also about 1% of our population. This 1% is truly worth talking about.

This 1% protects the freedom of the other 99%. Without them, our country is not as safe, and without them, we could not enjoy the liberties we have daily.

You don’t have to agree with the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan or even agree with war at all. But, how can we not be anything but absolutely grateful and honored that so many men and women would fight selflessly to protect our country?

As citizens of this great nation, we have an obligation to do our part. The government trains these brave men and women and supports them to a high degree throughout their active military duty. But, when they leave military service, our veterans need our support.

I have never served in the military. Before I joined the Center for BrainHealth’s Brain Performance Institute, I can honestly say that I did not know many veterans. I certainly did not know them well enough to form an opinion about how they could contribute to the civilian sector.

I can now say with the upmost confidence that because of their military experience, warriors are among some of the finest employees I have ever had. They are team players, dedicated professionals, possess a great work ethic and are adaptable. Military service members are tenacious. In short, they get the job done.

So, what should we do as executives in corporate America, leaders in the non-profit world and influencers in our communities? I know for sure that veterans don’t want us to feel sorry for them. They are not victims that need our pity. They are Americans that want what we all want – opportunity. An opportunity for a career that is fulfilling, challenging and provides for their family. An opportunity to grow and find meaning and purpose in their lives. An opportunity to continue serving others.

I challenge you to the following to help bridge the civilian military divide and prepare some of America’s finest for their next mission as productive and successful citizens.

We often fear what we don’t understand, and we can’t possibly understand what its like to serve in the military if we have not done it. Hopefully, we can agree that supporting this 1% is a much more important conversation.

Center for BrainHealth

Empowering Our Nation’s Warriors

Thursday, February 20, 2014

At Bush Institute's Empowering Our Nation's Warriors Summit yesterday, President George W. Bush highlighted the Center for BrainHealth as a "pioneering program" to address traumatic brain injury (TBI) and other invisible wounds of war.

In his remarks, President Bush charged the American public, military, non-profit, community and corporate leaders to help end the false stigma surrounding post-traumatic stress (PTS) and provide veterans with innovative programs that address PTS and TBI.

The Center for BrainHealth and Brain Performance Institute are working to help bridge the military and civilian divide and break down barriers that prevent our brave military service men and women from achieving the American dreams that they have so valiantly defended.

To see and read President Bush's speech about empowering our nation's warriors, click here.

To learn more about our warrior intitiatives, click here.

Center for BrainHealth

The Simmons Family Foundation: Igniting Innovative Education

Friday, February 7, 2014

The Simmons Family Foundation is betting on the power of brain science to revolutionize one of our nation’s most pressing concerns – education of our youth. They have invested $2.5 million to implement programs, developed at the Center for BrainHealth, across Texas to create a model for national education reform.

Worldwide, the United States has fallen from number one in high school graduation to number 22 out of 27 ranked countries, according to the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD). Domestic advances are failing to compete with other developed countries that have worked aggressively at education reform. Curricula in top performing countries have evolved to emphasize creative thinking, problem solving and the ability to innovate, an OECD report points out.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan emphasizes, “I think in other countries, there’s a greater understanding that education is the path to a middle-class life. And somehow we have to get back that sense of urgency, that commitment that other countries have.”

The Simmons Family Foundation gift to the Center for BrainHealth’s Brain Performance Institute aims to help bring the U.S. back to its former global esteem. Priming teens for high school success, the generous donation will be used to integrate scientifically-proven high performance brain training, known as SMART, into several public middle schools of low socioeconomic status across Texas beginning in fall 2014. Moreover, it will provide extra support to students affected by two issues also in the national spotlight: the growing number of children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and the 20% increase in bullying in the last 10 years.

“The Simmons Family Foundation is dedicated to affecting change on important issues,” explains Lisa Simmons, trustee of The Simmons Family Foundation. “Transforming our education system is at the top of the list, and we believe the SMART training is vital to teach middle school students to learn and think strategically.  With the number of young people facing social challenges, such as bullying, on the rise, the opportunity to promote social and emotional well being really appealed to us.“

The two programs will be delivered on a wide scale and are based on decades of research. Both inspire creative, insightful and resourceful thinking and are proven to strengthen the part of the brain responsible for critical thinking, reasoning, decision-making and problem solving – key aspects necessary to compete on an international level.

“With the campus-wide approach, SMART will be infused into the school’s culture and curriculum,” says Jacque Gamino, Ph.D., Director of the Center for BrainHealth’s Adolescent Reasoning Initiative. “When students are inspired to be involved in the learning process, innovation and creativity lead to engagement and academic success. Involving entire faculties and parents in the SMART program helps bolster student achievement.”

The social cognition program targeting those involved in bullying, individuals with an ASD diagnosis and other teens who face significant social challenges will be made available to students based on teacher recommendation. The cutting-edge virtual reality program, complete with personalized avatars and face tracking software, is a safe learning environment disguised as a fun video game that allows participants to triumph at real-life situations such as peer pressure, disagreements and building friendships.

Dr. Gamino and Sandra Chapman, Ph.D., the Center’s Founder and Chief Director, recently visited with officials in Secretary Duncan’s office to discuss scalability and future prospects for SMART on the national level. “We are grateful to The Simmons Family Foundation for the opportunity to expand these proven programs,” says Dr. Chapman. “Expanding SMART on this scale not only improves the minds of more students, but also continues to validate our research and the program’s potential to have a monumental impact on the U.S. education system.”

Center for BrainHealth

Playing Football: What Every Parent and Coach Should Know

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

BrainHealth’s Dr. Sandra Chapman weighed in on the discussion about sports-related concussions yesterday at the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA)’s annual convention, saying the benefits of youth football “far exceed the risk of permanent brain damage.” 

In a speech delivered to hundreds of football coaches, Dr. Chapman said it is a myth that a single concussion always causes permanent cognitive impairment. She explained that, in most cases, an individual will fully recover after a concussion given proper management, therapy and time to heal., a public information initiative of the Society for Neuroscience, addresses the issue of permanent brain damage from concussions on its website saying:

“A concussion, a typically mild and common type of brain injury, usually results in only temporary disruption of brain functions as long as there is adequate recovery time and no repeated injury. Even after more serious brain injury…research indicates that – especially with the help of therapy – the brain may be capable of developing new connections and “reroute” function through healthy areas.”

Dr. Chapman, who has been funded by the National Institutes of Health for 25 years to study the long-term effects of concussion in pediatric patients through age 25, acknowledged that the most important aspect is concussion prevention and continuing to make football safer. The interdisciplinary team she works with includes cognitive neuroscientits, rehabilitation specialists, speech-language pathologists, neurologists, psychiatrists, neuropsychologists, brain imaging experts and neurosurgeons. She also emphasized that monitoring cognitive and emotional symptoms is key to addressing any later-emerging deficits and that having a clear process for handling concussions increases the likelihood of recovery and improvement. Dr. Chapman said that once an athlete has experienced a concussion, it needs to be treated like a chronic condition and monitored annually to make sure the symptoms remain in remission.

During her presentation, Dr. Chapman explained that playing football and other sports provide rich and proven opportunities to:

She also shared some guidelines for treating concussions; additional resources are listed on the CDC website here.

A. Treat brain injuries with the same care you would treat other serious injuries. A player who breaks an ankle would not be sent out to play the next day.

B. After an injury, have the player immediately see a qualified medical professional—preferably a neurologist with experience in concussions—for diagnosis and treatment.

C. Remove the player from play until symptoms have disappeared.

D. Restrict the player from strenuous activity and weightlifting.

E. Remove the player from complex mental activity, such as school work and tests, for 1 to 3 weeks, with gradual return depending on the individual’s rate of recovery.

F. Restrict use of screens—computer, phone, video games and texting—for approximately 3 weeks; these can delay the brain’s healing process.

G. Keep the player from driving while symptomatic.

H. Limit the player’s intake of caffeinated drinks.

I. As symptoms improve, make incremental academic adjustments with a gradual “return to learn.”

So instead of swearing off sports, which provide benefits such as warding off depression, mitigating risks of lifelong addictions and promoting better sleep habits, Dr. Chapman suggests all of us – athletes or not -- focus on training our brains to build life-long cognitive resilience. 

For additional information about Dr. Chapman and the Center for BrainHealth’s work with concussions and other traumatic brain injuries, click here.

Dr, Chapman has no conflict of interests.

Center for BrainHealth