Center for BrainHealth Researcher Awarded $2.7 Million to Study Traumatic Brain Injury in Military Service Members

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

A researcher from the Center for BrainHealth at UT Dallas has been awarded a $2.7 million grant from the Department of Defense (DoD) under the Joint Warfighter Medical Research Program.

The grant, awarded to Dr. Daniel Krawczyk, deputy director of the Center for BrainHealth, will fund research, via a virtual technology platform, to improve cognitive and functional deficits for veterans who have experienced traumatic brain injuries (TBI).

The project is a follow-up effort from a Cognitive Rehabilitation for Traumatic Brain Injury Clinical Trial Award previously given by the DoD's Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury Research Program. It was conducted under the strategic oversight of the DoD’s Clinical and Rehabilitative Medicine and Military Operational Medicine Research Programs.

“Those who experience a traumatic brain injury often struggle with working memory, planning and cognitive control, which impacts real-life functionality,” said Krawczyk, associate professor of cognitive neuroscience and cognitive psychology and Debbie and Jim Francis Chair in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences. “Utilizing an innovative virtual-reality platform, we hope to improve cognitive difficulties in individuals with chronic TBI by training strategies to accomplish complex real-life tasks.” 

The study will include more than 100 veterans, regardless of service status, who have sustained traumatic brain injuries. The research team will collect structural and functional brain imaging, and neuropsychological evaluations from participants before and after training. 

The team also will use Expedition, a virtual-reality platform developed by Virtual Heroes, a division of Applied Research Associates Inc., to establish training remotely over a four-week period. The real-life training scenarios include packing for a trip, planning and executing various modes of transportation, selecting and remembering locations as well as money and time management. 

“The project represents a great opportunity to leverage the innovative work Virtual Heroes has done in serious gaming to address a critical need for this important and highly vulnerable population of veterans,” said Greg Rule, professional engineer, project manager with Applied Research Associates. “The program must be tailored to the audience, entertaining enough to encourage them to use it, but capable of collecting the necessary data on cognitive performance of the users.”

“The unique design and approach of Expedition may also provide for quantifiable performance data throughout the intervention itself, not just the traditional ‘before’ and ‘after,’” Krawczyk said. “The possibility of getting a peek inside the historic ‘black box’ of traumatic brain injury research may assist in the development of more effective or customizable interventions and more sensitive evaluation methods.”

Note: This work is supported by the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command under Contract No. W81XWH-16-1-0053. The views, opinions and/or findings contained in this news release are those of The University of Texas at Dallas and should not be construed as an official Department of the Army position, policy or decision unless so designated by other documentation.

Center for BrainHealth

What Simple Action Lifts Your Mood and Confidence?

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Squeezing your right hand into a fist can lift mood and boost your confidence.

Try this the next time you are feeling anxious about something – a difficult conversation, a nerve-wracking presentation or some other challenge.

You can do this under the radar without anyone noticing – lightly squeeze your right hand for 45 seconds or so, relax for 15, squeeze again for 45 seconds, relax for 15 seconds and so on while you are waiting to begin.

This boosts activity in the left front part of your brain which is part of the “approach” network – the reward-seeking set of brain circuits underlying goal-seeking.


Right hand squeezing also helps you to persist with trying to solve problems that seem insoluble.


Giving up in the face of difficulty is linked with the avoidance network in the brain, and with the associated negative emotions of anxiety and sadness. The right front part of the brain is associated with this punishment-avoiding network which is linked to anticipating risk and avoiding negative events.

It is not surprising then that left hand squeezing increases negative emotions linked to the avoidance network.


When you are trying to learn something new – the name of a new acquaintance for example – squeezing your right hand can help the memory encoding network of the brain store that information.

This is because the left frontal part of the brain is linked to the process of storing new memories. The right frontal part of the brain on the other hand, is associated with recalling already stored memories. So if you are trying to remember the name of someone whose name you know but can’t quite remember, you can give the right front part of your brain a little boost by squeezing your left hand.

In my book The Stress Test: How Pressure Can Make You Stronger and Sharper (Bloomsbury), I give more simple examples of how you can master your emotions. Try the Stress Questionnaire on and follow me on Twitter @ihrobertson


Center for BrainHealth

Top 10 Center for BrainHealth Breakthroughs in 2016

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Center for BrainHealth’s vision to empower people of all ages to unlock their brain potential would not be possible without its dedicated scientists and clinicians, as well as generous supporters and collaborating organizations. 

As we look back at 2016, we remember 10 breakthroughs that advanced brain science, six new faces who shaped our year and celebrate more than 60,000 people we have reached in 24 states through our research initiatives and programmatic offerings at the Center for BrainHealth and its Brain Performance Institute.

  1. Center for BrainHealth’s “socialization lab” made national news when it was featured by the Today Show.
  2. Dr. Sandra Chapman and her team found brain training may benefit individuals with mild cognitive impairment and bipolar disorder. Other research revealed how mental exercise affects your brain differently than physical exercise.
  3. Dr. Bart Rypma and his lab, working in collaboration with colleagues in Sweden, revealed a link between dopamine and an individual’s ability to recognize faces.
  4. Dr. Francesca Filbey and her team found that the starting age of marijuana use may have long-term effects on brain development and long-term marijuana use changes the brain's reward circuit.
  5. Computational psychiatry research from Dr. Xiaosi Gu’s lab demonstrated how the brain responds to nicotine depends on a smoker’s belief about the nicotine content in a cigarette.
  6. The 2016 Reprogramming the Brain to Health Symposium honored Professor Karl Friston, FRS, FMedSci, who is considered the father of modern brain mapping.
  7. Research from Dr. Daniel Krawczyk’s lab identified complex brain connectivity patterns in individuals that may explain long-term higher order cognitive function deficits in chronic phases of traumatic brain injury.
  8. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society awarded Dr. Bart Rypma more than $490,000 to study effects of  MS on brain blood flow and cognition.
  9. Dan Branch was honored with the 2016 Legacy Award for his legislative efforts to further higher education in Texas.
  10. Center for BrainHealth joined an eight-university research collaborative to help simplify medical decision-making for patients with rheumatoid arthritis who may face life-changing choices.

Six New Faces Who Shaped Our Year

Dr. Leanne Young took the helm as Executive Director of the Brain Performance Institute. Young previously worked in the private sector as a Department of Defense contractor and is a nationally recognized expert in blast injury research.
Cindy Samuelsen joined the Center for BrainHealth as Assitant Director of Sponsored Research Projects. Tasked with providing strategic guidance, she helps scientists manage and obtain new research funding.
Dr. Sven Vanneste joined the team as the Director of Neuromodulation. He is spearheading initiatives that investigate and seek to treat neurological and psychiatric diseases using neurostimulation technology. 
Dr. Ian Robertson completed his first year as T. Boone Pickens Distinguished Scientist at Center for BrainHealth. His new book, The Stress Test: How Pressure Can Make You Stronger, hits U.S. retailers in January.
Center for BrainHealth tapped Dr. Robert Rennaker, II to be its first Chief of Neuroengineering. Dr. Rennaker is executive director of the UT Dallas Texas Biomedical Device Center where he and his team developed a vagus nerve stimulation device that is poised to be an affordable solution that helps individuals with tinnitus and stroke.
Although a part of the Center for BrainHealth team for more than a decade, Dr. Daniel Krawczyk became the organization’s first Deputy Director, a position created to advance and expand research initiatives at the Center. Despite his expanded role, he found time to give a TEDx talk that explains why Our Brains Are Wired to Collect Things and launched a research initiative to investigate Deception in the Brain after receiving a $401,000 grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Biotechnology Office.


We celebrate these brain health strides and look forward to many more in 2017!

Center for BrainHealth

You Do This 160 Times a Day, It Stresses and Depresses You

Monday, December 12, 2016

Are you this sort of person?

If you do a lot of these things a lot of the time, then it means you are prone to mind-wandering.

There is nothing wrong with mind-wandering if you are doing it deliberately – say lying back in that hot bath, brainstorming about what nice things you might do for the weekend.

But if your mind wanders a lot while you are doing other things – like reading or talking or working – research shows that it tends to pull your mood down.

Why is this? – Our minds have a negative bias – when they go walkabout without our control, they sniff out emotional trouble – i.e. unresolved conflicts which are what worries, doubts and regrets are.

Our brains are primed to detect conflict and whenever they do, they send out strong signals that interrupt our ongoing mental activity – a part of the brain called the anterior cingulate is key here.

Because worries, doubts and regrets are examples of conflicts, our minds preferentially attend to these over positive thoughts and memories and this pulls our mood down, making it harder to stay focused. Hence a vicious cycle develops.

This is why wandering minds tend to be unhappy minds. So what can we do about it?

The greatest protector against a wandering mind is focus. Paying attention to what we are doing – even if it is an ordinary task like washing dishes in the kitchen – helps prevent our minds going walkabout and hence sniffing out mood-lowering thoughts and memories.

This is one reason that mindfulness practices can be so helpful to people. It’s amazing how pleasurable a very ordinary activity like wiping a table or eating an apple can be if you simply take the time to focus your attention on the task and notice the various sensations involved.

Here are some other tips to help you decide when your mind wanders rather than letting it decide:

Work around your alertness

Your mind is more likely to wander when your alertness levels are at their lowest – am if you are an evening person or pm if you are a morning person. Plan to be occupied with routine tasks as much as possible or be physically active during your low alertness times.

Deliberately bias your memory towards positive experiences.

If you are in a negative mood, write down in a notebook the positive experiences you have had today, recently and in the past and make a note of the good things you have done. This will bias your memory system to remember more of these and may help lift your mood.

Forget Regret

Remember that regret is a useless emotion – regret is only useful if you use it as an impulse to change something.  Don’t dwell on the past – use regret as an impulse to do something about the present and future.

In my book The StressTest: How Pressure Can Make You Stronger and Sharper (Bloomsbury - out 3rd January), I give more examples of how you can discover the benefits of stress.Try the Stress Questionnaire on and follow me on Twitter @ihrobertson

Center for BrainHealth

Why we need to study the effects of marijuana on motor learning

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Most marijuana studies demonstrate that consuming cannabis induces cognitive and motor performance deficits. Science, though, has yet to study cannabis’ effect on motor learning, which is necessary for simple and complex movements – such as reflexes and speaking – as well as properly calibrated physical movement. Researchers at the Center for BrainHealth, part of The University of Texas at Dallas, argue that addressing this research gap could lead to breakthroughs in addiction therapies.

In a review of literature that appears online in Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences, Center for BrainHealth scientists found a consensus among published research: that exposure to cannabis has significant effects on brain pathways – or cortico-striatal networks – that facilitate cognitive activity and motor production. These same networks are also involved in addiction.

“The craving to consume an illicit substance changes learned behavior, resulting in addiction. Actions directed at obtaining an addictive substance supersede behaviors necessary for survival, like eating healthily and maintaining social relationships,” explained co-author Dr. Shikha Prashad, a postdoctoral research fellow in the Cognitive Neuroscience of Addictive Behaviors lab at Center for BrainHealth. “Understanding how these motor learning changes occur could lead to targeted therapies that can potentially deprogram addiction in the brain.”

Dr. Prashad, whose background includes studying cognitive motor deficits in diseases such as Parkinson’s, hypothesizes that because cannabis affects motor production, or reaction time, and cognitive performance, such as short-term memory and attention, it also affects motor learning.

Dr. Francesca Filbey, Cognitive Neuroscience of Addictive Behaviors director at the Center for BrainHealth, relayed several findings that have been revealed in recent research, but noted that research methods, sample sizes and study findings were inconsistent.

“How marijuana affects an individual seems to be related to how long and how regularly they have been consuming it and at what age they started,” said Dr. Filbey. “There is some indication that certain deficits can be temporary, such as impaired attention, short-term memory and reaction time. Other brain changes, such as regional decreases in size and alterations in connectivity, may be more permanent.”

Drs. Filbey and Prashad emphasize that much more research needs to be done, especially in light of the current legal climate surrounding cannabis and possible implications for public health and safety policies, such as legal limits while driving.

“Our goal as scientists is not to say whether cannabis is good or bad,” explained Dr. Filbey. “Instead, we want to uncover cannabis’ short- and long-term effects on the brain as well as discern genetic, behavioral and developmental risk factors that contribute to the nine to 10 percent of individuals who become addicted to marijuana. As marijuana use exceeds alcohol use in young people, there is an increasing need for data to support informed decision-making.”

This work was supported by the National Institutes of Health Grant RO1 DA030344 to Dr. Filbey. The article “Cognitive motor deficits in cannabis use,” by Shikha Prashad, PhD, and Francesca Filbey, PhD (doi: 10.1016/j.cobeha.2016.07.001), is available online and will appear in Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences, Volume 13, February 2017, Pages 1-7, published by Elsevier.

Center for BrainHealth

Q&A with Dr. Kihwan Han

Monday, December 5, 2016

Kihwan Han,
PhD, a postdoctoral researcher at the Center for BrainHealth, was recently awarded The Sapphire Foundation Friends of BrainHealth Distinguished New Scientist award. We sat down with Dr. Han to learn more about his research.

How will this award further your research?

My research aims to better understand traumatic brain injury in the context of injury detection and rehabilitation, utilizing advanced magnetic resonance imaging. I hope to develop brain-based markers that demonstrate the patterns in injury progress and improvement following rehabilitation. The Sapphire Foundation Distinguished New Scientist Award will enable me to characterize changes in neural networks associated with goal management when participants with traumatic brain injury receive rehabilitation. This effort will provide a quantitative brain-based maker of improving brain health after rehabilitation for traumatic brain injury.

How did you become interested in neuroscience and studying the effects of traumatic brain injuries?

During my first postdoctoral training at medical school in Washington University in St. Louis, I learned devastating effects of traumatic brain injury and limitations in detecting such injuries with current technologies. Since then, I have been compelled to contribute to this challenging research field with the problem-solving capability acquired from my doctoral degree in electrical engineering.

If you could be known for one thing in the scientific world in 20 years what would it be?

In the future, I hope that scientists recognize my brain-system-based approaches to make ‘invisible’ brain injuries ‘visible’ on medical imaging and to link the complex patterns of brain injuries to behavioral deficits.

Center for BrainHealth

Stress Can Do This Strangely Positive Thing to You

Monday, November 28, 2016

Stress can be your friend, at least as far as your cognitive function is concerned.

This is because stress releases the hormone norepinephrine which, in moderate doses, can help your brain function better.

Like many of the brain’s chemical messengers, norepinephrine (also known as noradrenaline) has a “Goldilocks Zone”, meaning that if levels are either too low, or too high, the brain underperforms and your memory is poorer.

But if it is in this “sweet spot” zone, the different parts of the brain communicate much better with each other because of norepinephrine’s action as a neurotransmitter.

When your brain’s regions are orchestrated in harmony like this, you feel alert and more able to perform and remember better.

Amazingly, memory-impaired people in their seventies who experience stressful life events such as serious illness of a partner, or conflict with family, maintain their memory at better levels over two years than those with no stress.

What’s more, people of above-average intelligence generate more norepinephrine when given a problem to solve than do people of average intelligence, as measured by how much the pupils of their eyes dilate, a proven measure of norepinephrine activity.

Norepinephrine can act as a neuromodulator, fostering the growth of new synaptic connections across the brain, and even new brain cells in certain areas.

So how do you find this Goldilocks Zone of stress that will boost your performance? Here are two scientifically-validated ways to use stress in this way.

Relabel the symptoms of arousal.

Before a stressful meeting, conversation or presentation, say the words “I feel excited” out loud to yourself.

The racing heart, dry mouth and sweaty skin are the same symptoms of excitement as they are of anxiety.

By “relabelling” them, you are likely to perform better —probably because this relabelling pulls you up towards your Goldilock’s Zone of norepinephrine.  

Take a couple of long slow breaths.

Breathe in for a count of five, and out for five.

The part of the brain that produces norepinephrine is called the locus coeruleus, and it is sensitive to the levels of carbon dioxide in your blood.

You can control norepinephrine levels in your brain by the way you breathe. And because norepinephrine is a key player in the “fight or flight” response, you can also control your anxiety and stress using breathing.

In my book The Stress Test:How Pressure Can Make You Stronger and Sharper (Bloomsbury), I give more examples of how you can discover the benefits of stress. Try the Stress Questionnaire on www.ianrobertson.organd follow me on Twitter@ihrobertson

Center for BrainHealth

Q&A with Dr. Dan Krawczyk

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

We recently sat down with Dan Krawczyk, PhD, deputy director of the Center for BrainHealth, to discuss his research interests including genetics, our innate ability to think and reason, and how biology can change behavior and vice versa. Dr. Krawczyk is Principal Investigator on two large Department of Defense-funded clinical trials aimed at understanding rehabilitation of reasoning strategies after traumatic brain injury in veteran and civilian populations.

How did you get into neuroscience?

I became interested in neuroscience because I was really interested in biology. The brain is the best example of how biology can be made relatable to our everyday life. I was fascinated that we were entering this period where we could take biological measures like genetics, and I was also interested in our innate ability to think and reason. Merging those two interests together really shaped my career.

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned from your research?

The most surprising thing I have seen in my research so far is that behavior changes your biology as much as your biology can change your behavior. When I started in this field, it felt as if we were entering a stage where genetics and brain structure would be the answers to a lot of questions in our lives. Over the years, I’ve come around to thinking that our behavior can affect what genes express, and it can mold our biology through neuroplasticity, or the brain's ability to adapt and change through life. The brain is much more dynamic than we originally realized. We aren’t a fixed target - we change both in biology and behavior, and the fact that those interact as much as they do is very surprising.

What is the best part of your job?

The best part of the job is interacting with people; specifically, mentoring students and collaborating with other researchers. As methods, measurements and technology are constantly changing in our field, having a collaborative approach and the ability to see a project from start to finish is really rewarding.

What does your new role as deputy director entail?

As deputy director, I get to help advance the science at a larger scale and hopefully create more opportunities for more people to get involved in the importance of brain health. I am excited to help steer the future of the Center for BrainHealth’s cutting-edge research.

What fascinates you about the brain?

The brain’s complexity and speed are the most fascinating to me. The brain has such a vast number of neurons that act in an organized way and constantly modify based on our behavior. We study neural networks and I’m often mesmerized by the speed at which things happen in the brain and how fast neural impulses deliver information. It is neat to think of how what we consciously know about our brain’s complexity and speed is really the tip of the iceberg compared to what else is happening.

What would you like to be known for in 20 years?

In the next 20 years, I would like to be known as someone who was able to study cognition and use measurements to contextualize daily life. For example, finding the deficits in disorders to isolate the problems to influence possible treatments/solutions. I would also like to be known as someone who helped look at cognition and map it back to specific brain systems. The challenge for the next 20 years is understanding a human at the brain-level and making sure the lab measurements can be translated into practical knowledge. 

Listen to Dr. Krawczyk's recent TEDxSMU talk about our brains being wired to collect things. 

Center for BrainHealth

Center for BrainHealth Honors Dan Branch with Legacy Award

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

On Nov. 14, the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas presented Dan Branch with its highest honor, the Legacy Award, given to individuals whose vision and dedication enables the center and its Brain Performance Institute to empower people of all ages to unlock their brain potential. 

“Dan Branch’s efforts have helped elevate the cause of brain health to the forefront of discussions not only in Texas but nationwide,” said Dr. Sandra Bond Chapman, founder and chief director of the Center for BrainHealth and Dee Wyly Distinguished University Chair. “Because of his legislative work, we have been able to attract top talent from around the world to grow our research team and continue to make meaningful scientific discoveries that improve lives today.”

“I am most grateful to the UT Dallas Center for BrainHealth for its outstanding work and this gracious honor,” Branch said. “Family members, generous donors, academic leaders and legislative colleagues are the real heroes who inspired and supported my efforts to advance education, innovation and scientific research in Texas.”

As a state representative from Dallas and chairman of the Texas House Committee on Higher Education, Rep. Branch authored House Bill 51, the “Tier One universities” law. This landmark legislation encouraged private giving to public emerging research universities, including UT Dallas, by matching private gifts with state funds. Since 2009, more than $290 million in state funds has matched more than $370 million in private gifts for research.  These gifts and appropriations, along with National Research University Fund distributions of more than $105 million, represent a total investment in Texas emerging research universities of $770 million. As a result of House Bill 51, UT Dallas has received over $80 million in state matches on over $100 million in private gifts for research.

“The Tier One legislation may well be the most important, transformative and wildly successful legislation in Texas relative to public higher education in our lifetime,” said Dr. David Daniel, deputy chancellor of The University of Texas System, who was president of UT Dallas when the legislation took effect.

“Dan Branch’s legacy will last decades, probably generations, because it changed the game, not just for UT Dallas and the Center for BrainHealth, but for all public research universities in Texas. He changed the culture of research universities and inspired them to be greater than they would have been otherwise.”

Dr. Richard Benson, president of UT Dallas, said, “Even a relative newcomer to this state can see the tremendous impact Dan Branch has made on education in Texas.  He was visionary in his efforts, and his work will continue to transform education and the economy of Texas for decades to come.”

Patty and James Huffines were the honorary chairs of the event, and Robin and Eric Bennett were the dinner chairs. The host committee included: Lana and Barry Andrews, Sue and Pryor Blackwell, Marla and Mike Boone, Debbie and Jim Francis, Lynn and Allan McBee, Carolyn and Karl Rathjen, Jane and Bud Smith, and Gayle and Paul Stoffel.

Past BrainHealth Legacy Award recipients include Dianne Cash, Debbie Francis, T. Boone Pickens, James Huffines, Dee Wyly, Daryl Johnston and Lee Roy Jordan, Jane and Bud Smith and Clint Bruce.

Major donors at the Center for BrainHealth Legacy Award Dinner included:

Gold ($25,000):

Silver ($15,000):

Bronze ($10,000):

Center for BrainHealth

Q&A with Dr. Ian Robertson: The Stress Test

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Dr. Ian Robertson
, co-director of the Global Brain Health Institute and T. Boone Pickens Distinguished Scientist at the Center for BrainHealth, has spent the last four decades delving into the brain science behind stress. His new book, The Stress Test, hits shelves in January and reveals how we can shape our brain’s response to pressure. Read on to see if stress can ever be a good thing for our brains.  

The Stress Test

What’s the most surprising benefit that stress has on our brains?

Science has shown that experiencing moderate adversity benefits brain health – both cognitively and psychologically. While we tend to want to limit negative events in our lives, the research is clear that moderate stress, properly handled, increases alertness which in turn helps brain circuits function more efficiently.

How does it work?

Stress triggers the neurotransmitter norepinephrine which, like many of the brain’s chemical messengers, has a “sweet spot” below and above which the brain underperforms. Moderate stress can push you up into your sweet spot of functioning because norepinephrine is a natural, self-made “drug” that strengthens brain connections and improves alertness and performance.

How can we leverage stress to benefit us?

Everyone can learn to better control their own mind and emotions, and by doing so, we can – within limits – turn stress to our advantage. One of my favorite quotes is “a wandering mind is an unhappy mind.” So, focus your attention and tune your emotions towards the positive to literally change the way your mind works. To reap the brain benefits of stress, you must approach stressful situations with a “challenge” rather than a “threat” mindset. Saying “I feel excited” as opposed to “I feel anxious” in the face of a stressful challenge actually makes you feel better because it switches on your brain’s challenge mindset which in turn helps ensure that you stay in the sweet spot of functioning.

Center for BrainHealth

Cognitive Training Improves Brain Blood Flow, Cognition in those with Bipolar Disorder

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

A new study from the Center for BrainHealth at UT Dallas shows that strategy-based reasoning training may improve brain health in those with bipolar disorder.

In a paper published in Frontiers in Psychology, researchers discovered that individuals with bipolar disorder experienced increased brain blood flow in the prefrontal cortex after completing a strategy-based reasoning training. Study participants also had significant gains in executive function and memory after training. 

“Mood fluctuations are the most common symptoms of bipolar disorder and are often effectively managed with medications. In contrast, cognitive deficits, which are also very common in the disorder, are rarely addressed,” said Erin Venza, study lead author and clinician at the Center for BrainHealth.

“This study offers preliminary evidence that those with psychiatric disorders may receive added benefit from combined interventions, such as medications and strategy-based reasoning training,” she said.

Twenty-seven individuals, ages 21 to 70, diagnosed with bipolar I or II, who had been stable on medication for three months, participated in the study. They received the strategy-based reasoning training two hours a week for four weeks.

The training focused on higher-level brain functions such as strategic attention (the ability to prioritize and focus to more efficiently and effectively accomplish goals); integrated reasoning (the ability to synthesize new information by extracting a memorable essence, pearl of wisdom or take-home message); and innovation (the ability to appreciate diverse perspectives, derive multiple interpretations and generate new ideas to solve problems).

Pre-and post-training assessments showed gains in executive function, memory and complex abstraction (the ability to extract the bottom line when presented with information). Brain imaging results revealed increased resting state cerebral brain blood flow in the left inferior frontal gyrus, a region associated with semantic and cognitive control processes. Imaging results also found resting state cerebral brain blood flow in the right frontal middle gyrus, a region associated with higher-order abstraction abilities, correlated positively with performance on a measure of complex abstraction.

“Fortunately, medication is able to stabilize mood for individuals with bipolar disorder,” said principal investigator Dr. Sandra Bond Chapman, founder and chief director of the Center for BrainHealth and Dee Wyly Distinguished University Professor.

“However, many continue to struggle with goal setting and decision-making in a way that makes it difficult to live independently. These strategies may provide a set of tangible and definable strategies to provide a road map as to how to be more mentally engaged and productive each day whether at work and in personal situations.”

This study was funded by a private donation from the Dunlap family.

Center for BrainHealth

Friends of BrainHealth Helps New Scientists with Funding Awards

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The Friends of BrainHealth, a circle of donors supporting the Center for BrainHealth at UT Dallas, awarded four $25,000 Distinguished New Scientists Awards at the annual Friends of BrainHealth Scientist Selection Luncheon recently at the Dallas Country Club. The four scientists will use the funding to lead independently designed research studies.

“This is a truly unique way to propel brain science and the young researchers who are its future leaders into new territory and toward new discoveries,” said Dr. Sandra Bond Chapman, founder and chief director of the Center for BrainHealth and Dee Wyly Distinguished University Chair. “We are so grateful to our Friends members. Their efforts and support are making scientific breakthroughs possible and providing the means to elevate scientists early in their careers.”

The Friends of BrainHealth raised almost $310,000 this year and more than $2 million since its inception in 2008.

Dr. Kihwan Han, a postdoctoral research associate in Dr. Daniel Krawczyk’s lab, received the Sapphire Foundation Distinguished New Scientist award for his proposal to investigate a method for quantifying brain change after cognitive training in individuals with traumatic brain injury. Erin Venza, a clinician in Chapman’s lab, was awarded the Linda and Joel Robuck Distinguished New Scientist award to continue to investigate longitudinal outcomes of cognitive training in bipolar patients one-year post-training. Both Han’s and Venza’s studies will use cognitive testing and magnetic resonance imaging measures.

Dr. Wing Ting To, a research scientist working with BrainHealth’s director of neuromodulation Dr. Sven Vanneste, was chosen for her proposal to investigate memory retrieval in people with mild cognitive impairment, those at the highest risk for Alzheimer’s disease, and the benefits of a non-invasive neurostimulation technique, known as high-definition transcranial current stimulation. Her research will use behavioral and electrophysiological markers to assess its effectiveness on memory. 

David Martinez, a doctoral student and research assistant in  Krawczyk’s lab, was awarded a grant to study reasoning ability and eye movements in individuals with traumatic brain injury. His proposal aims to validate a new method for quantifying concussion-related deficits to help survivors maximize recovery with targeted cognitive training.

Twelve graduate students, doctoral candidates and postdoctoral fellows at the Center for BrainHealth competed for the awards. Other finalists included Alan Dunn, a research coordinator in Chapman’s lab, and Dr. Shikha Prashad, a postdoctoral research scientist in Dr. Francesca Filbey’s lab. Dunn proposed a study to compare behavioral and brain changes after mild traumatic brain injury at five points in time using brain imaging that assesses brain metabolism, cognitive testing, sleep quality and eye tracking. Prashad’s proposal sought to investigate the effects of cannabis on an individual’s motor skills.

Pictured in the photo from left: Dr. Kihwan Han, Erin Venza, Dr. Wing Ting To and David Martinez.

Friends of BrainHealth

The Friends of BrainHealth will kick off its 2017 campaign Nov. 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

Center for BrainHealth Names Executive Director for Brain Performance Institute

Monday, October 17, 2016

Leanne Young has joined the Center for BrainHealth® at The University of Texas at Dallas as executive director of its Brain Performance Institute™.

A nationally recognized expert in blast injury research, Young previously worked with the Department of Defense’s Combating Terrorism Technology Support Office, the Office of Naval Research, the Medical Research and Materiel Command, and Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) on a variety of projects related to characterizing and preventing traumatic brain injuries in a blast environment.

“Leanne’s experience and her wealth of knowledge will be an incredible asset as we develop and build a nationwide network of leading brain performance solutions,” said Dr. Sandra Bond Chapman, founder and chief director at the Center for BrainHealth and Dee Wyly Distinguished University Professor in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences. “Her engineering and business background will contribute to advancing our vision to empower people of all ages to unlock their brain potential.”  

Before joining the Brain Performance Institute™, Young ran a division of Applied Research Associates Inc. and helped establish human vulnerability as a core business area for that company. With support from DARPA, she directed the first clinical trials of blast-induced brain injuries, and, in partnership with the Office of Naval Research, she led the development of a computer model for planning the medical response to a blast attack on a ship.

“I am fascinated by the brain,” Young said. “The field of neuroscience is on the cusp of making dramatic breakthroughs in brain research that will revolutionize brain health, and I am thrilled to be part of furthering UT System and Chancellor McRaven’s Quantum Leap efforts on brain research by developing and delivering brain science innovations to enhance how people think, work and live. When people treat their brains the way they do their bodies in terms of exercise, training and a focus on prevention and health, lives will be changed.”

Young recently completed all of the requirements for a PhD in cognitive neuroscience at UT Dallas. While studying under Dr. Daniel Krawczyk, Young combined her past career goals with a dual focus on social neuroscience and virtual reality-based characterization and treatment of functional impairment associated with traumatic brain injuries. Her degree will be awarded in December.

“Leanne is one of the most capable and talented colleagues I have worked with at any level,” said Krawczyk, associate professor of cognitive neuroscience and cognitive psychology in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences and Debbie and Jim Francis Chair. “She combines a unique set of business skills with her insatiable curiosity about the brain. Most of all she has a tremendous passion for people and helping to make life better for those struggling with disease or injury."

Center for BrainHealth

Q&A with Dr. Vincenzo Fiore

Friday, October 14, 2016

We recently sat down with Vincenzo Fiore, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow in the Computational Psychiatry Unit lab of Dr. Xiaosi Gu, to discuss how he uses novel scientific techniques and computational models to help better illustrate neural activity during human decision-making. His research focuses on addiction and how an area of the brain known as the basal ganglia influences the disorder.

What sparked your interest to research decision-making?  

It started as a question about how you make decisions and how you store information to exploit it for future selections or preferences. I was very interested in game theory, at first, especially understanding and predicting choices that rely on a person’s system of values. The topic evolved into questions about how you create your system of values – what is good for you and what is not. While studying robotics in Rome, I investigated how to make the robot construct decisions, which led to questions about how the brain works. Those questions led me to London, where I began my sole focus of neuroscience research.

How can your research help others?

I would like to be able to see whether these theories about the basal ganglia can be validated and applied to addiction. This would be very important because it could give a strong prediction of how to create and apply individualized treatment.

What are some of your hobbies?

I used to play basketball, and now I like to travel the U.S., and visit lots of different cities, and hope to visit several other countries soon.

Center for BrainHealth

Food for Thought: Neurostimulation

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Promising Outcomes and Potential Future Treatments

In the last 15 years, researchers have investigated the benefits of tDCS (transcranial direct current stimulation), a non-invasive neurostimulation that uses direct electric current to stimulate the brain in a wide range of conditions such as chronic pain, stroke, aphasia, tinnitus, depression, schizophrenia, migraine, fibromyalgia, and Parkinson’s disease.

Dr. Sven Vanneste, Center for BrainHealth’s newly appointed director of neuromodulation, will be spearheading new initiatives to understand the underlying neural mechanisms in neurological and psychiatric diseases and developing novel treatments using invasive and non-invasive neurostimulation.

Center for BrainHealth researchers, in collaboration with a neurosurgeon at the University of Otago in New Zealand, recently published a comprehensive review and best practices for two types of tDCS: conventional tDCS and high-definition tDCS.

tDCS has been found to be a safe and well-tolerated investigational device as well as a treatment tool when used within the standard parameters,” explained Dr. Wing Ting To, a research scientist at Center for BrainHealth and lead author of the article that appears in the journal Expert Review of Medical Devices.

How it Works

The most commonly used equipment for tDCS involves two saline-soaked sponges, electrodes (typically conductive rubber), non-conductive elastic straps, cables, and a battery-powered direct current delivering device.

HD-tDCS uses an array of electrodes, instead of two large pads, that can be placed in specific configurations to more reliably target specific brain areas and produce brain changes that may outlast conventional tDCS.


Figure provided courtesy of Dr. Marom Bikson and the Neural Engineering Group, The City College of New York

Center for BrainHealth

BrainHealth Scientists Connect Dopamine, Facial Recognition in Study

Friday, September 30, 2016

In a recent study, researchers at UT Dallas’ Center for BrainHealth, working in collaboration with colleagues in Sweden, have revealed a link between the dopamine neurotransmitter system in the brain and an individual’s ability to recognize faces. 

Led by Dr. Bart Rypma, Meadows Foundation Chair at Center for BrainHealth, the study found that the amount of dopamine relative to the amount of brain activity in the fusiform gyrus strongly predicted the ability to recognize faces. Although the fusiform gyrus has been previously established as an area of the brain related to facial recognition, this is the first time scientists have made a connection between dopamine and facial recognition.                                                                                                                                       

The findings were published in The Journal of Neuroscience. Dr. Nicholas Hubbard, who worked with Rypma, at the Center for BrainHealth, was a co-author of the paper.

“There is an intimate relationship between face recognition and the reward system,” said Rypma, associate professor of cognitive neuroscience and cognitive psychology. “For example, you can imagine that the more sensitive someone is to social rewards, the better they feel during social interactions with familiar faces. People who are better at recognizing faces are likely more socially outgoing than those who have greater trouble differentiating one face from another.”

Using a combination of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and positron emission tomography (PET) imaging, researchers discovered that individuals who showed more brain activity per unit of dopamine showed better facial recognition.

Dopamine is the "feel-good" chemical linked to the body’s natural reward system. That system drives survival, providing individuals with motivation and rewards in the form of positive stimuli for vital behaviors such as eating nutritious food and procreating.

For the study, 10 male and 10 female participants, ages 22 to 30, were shown 24 faces and asked to remember them.

Participants then underwent fMRI scanning while they were shown the studied faces intermixed with new ones. As participants viewed each face, they were asked to indicate whether it was new or familiar while the researchers monitored their brain activity. Researchers also measured dopamine availability of each participant with a PET scan. 

“The findings suggest that the strength of the neural response to the amount of dopamine transmitted could be key to understanding why we remember some faces and forget others,” Hubbard said. “Establishing this empirical link between fusiform activity and dopamine binding, and linking these to a cognitive process that is highly relevant for survival in a social world, was a most exciting find.”

Significant portions of the study were completed while Rypma was in residence at the Aging Research Center of the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm. 

The work was supported by The University of Texas at Dallas Faculty Development Leave program; the National Institutes of Health; the Swedish Research Council; Swedish Council for Working Life and Social Research; Swedish Brain Power, an Alexander von Humboldt Research Award; and a donation from the af Jochnick Foundation, and the Torsten and Ragnar Söderberg’s Foundation.

Center for BrainHealth

Enhancing Social Lives with Virtual Reality

Monday, September 19, 2016

Many people struggle in social situations. Reading facial expressions and knowing how to respond are a daily challenge for many with high-functioning autism as well as for some who are not on the spectrum.

Since 2008, researchers at the Center for BrainHealth® have been investigating how to provide social brain-training using a virtual reality platform. The resulting scientifically tested program immerses participants in a video game like environment that includes dynamic face-tracking technology and a live clinician whose avatar provides social coaching through a variety of conversational scenarios.  

Learn more about the SCIENCE behind the virtual reality social cognition training SOLUTION.

See the Today show story featuring Maria Shriver.

Center for BrainHealth

Study: Virtual reality training improves social skills of individuals on the autism spectrum

Monday, September 19, 2016

Although most children with high-functioning autism have above average intellectual capabilities, they often experience social difficulties. Deficits in social communication and difficulty inhibiting thoughts and regulating emotions can lead to social isolation and low self-esteem. However, new research from the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas shows that a new virtual reality training program is producing positive results.

“Individuals with autism may become overwhelmed and anxious in social situations,” research clinician Dr. Nyaz Didehbani said. “The virtual reality training platform creates a safe place for participants to practice social situations without the intense fear of consequence.”

Findings published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior reveal that participants who completed the training demonstrated improved social cognition skills and reported better real-world relationships. Neurocognitive testing showedsignificant gains in emotional recognition, understanding the perspective of others and the ability to problem solve.

For the study, 30 young people ages 7 to 16 with high-functioning autism were matched into groups of two. The teams completed 10, one-hour sessions of virtual reality training for five weeks. Participants learned strategies and practiced social situations such as meeting a peer for the first time, confronting a bully and inviting someone to a party. Participants interacted with two clinicians through virtual avatars. One clinician served as a coach, providing instructions and guidance, while the other was the conversational partner who played a classmate, bully, teacher or others, depending on the scenario in the world that’s similar to a video game.

“This research builds on past studies we conducted with adults on the autism spectrum and demonstrates that virtual reality may be a promising and motivating platform for both age groups,” said Tandra Allen, head of virtual training programs. “This was the first study to pair participants together with the goal of enhancing social learning. We observed relationships in life grow from virtual world conversations. We saw a lot of growth in their ability to initiate and maintain a conversation, interpret emotions and judge the quality of a friendship.”

"It's exciting that we can observe changes in diverse domains including emotion recognition, making social attribution, and executive functions related to reasoning through this life-like intervention,” said Dr. Daniel C. Krawczyk,associate professor of cognitive neuroscience and cognitive psychology in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences and Debbie and Jim Francis Chair. “These results demonstrate that core social skills can be enhanced using a virtual training method."

The research was supported by grants from the Rees-Jones Foundation, Sparrow Foundation, Lattner Family Foundation and Crystal Charity Ball.

Center for BrainHealth

Belief About Nicotine Content in Cigarette May Change Brain Activity and Craving

Monday, September 12, 2016

How the brain responds to nicotine depends on a smoker’s belief about the nicotine content in a cigarette, according to new research from the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas.

The study, recently published in Frontiers in Psychiatry, found that smoking a nicotine cigarette but believing that it lacked nicotine failed to satisfy cravings related to nicotine addiction. Contrary to their expectations, researchers found that in order to satisfy nicotine cravings, smokers had to not only smoke a cigarette with nicotine but also believe that they were smoking nicotine.

“These results suggest that for drugs to have an effect on a person, he or she needs to believe that the drug is present,” said Dr. Xiaosi Gu, assistant professor in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences and the study’s lead author.

The scientists used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to capture neural activity in the insula cortex, a region of the brain that plays a role in diverse functions such as bodily perception and self-awareness. The insula cortex is also associated with drug cravings and addiction, Gu said.

Twenty-four chronic, nicotine-addicted smokers participated in the double-blind study. Over four visits, participants were twice given a nicotine-containing cigarette and twice a placebo. With each type of cigarette, they were once accurately told what type they had and once told the opposite.

“We examined the impact of beliefs about cravings prior to and after smoking while also measuring neural activity,” said Gu, who also serves as the head of the Computational Psychiatry Unit at the Center for BrainHealth.

Each visit, participants underwent an fMRI scan and were administered a cigarette, but each visit tested a different condition:

“We expected the presence of nicotine to show some sort of craving response compared to conditions where the subjects did not receive nicotine despite the belief about the nicotine given, but that was not what we found,” said Read Montague, co-author of the study, director of the Human Neuroimaging Laboratory and the Computational Psychiatry Unit at Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute.

After smoking the provided cigarette, participants completed a reward learning task while undergoing fMRI. They rated their levels of craving before smoking the cigarette and after the task.

The fMRI scans showed significant neural activity that correlated to both craving and learning signals when participants smoked a nicotine cigarette and believed its nicotine content was genuine. However, smoking nicotine but believing it was a placebo did not produce the same brain signals.

Results from this study support previous findings that beliefs can alter a drug’s effects on craving, providing insight into possible avenues for novel methods of addiction treatments.

The work was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health, the Kane Family Foundation, the Wellcome Trust and The Dallas Foundation.


doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2016.00126

Center for BrainHealth

Lecture to provide research insight and practical tips for those living with multiple sclerosis

Monday, September 12, 2016

An estimated 2.3 million individuals are living with multiple sclerosis (MS) worldwide. This unpredictable disease of the central nervous system disrupts the flow of information within the brain and between the brain and body. On Tuesday, September 27 beginning at 6:15 p.m., Andrea Wildenthal Hanson, a master certified life coach, will share her personal experience including her empowering approach to living with the disease during an evening lecture at the Center for BrainHealth. UT Dallas associate professor and Meadows Foundation Chair, Bart Rypma, Ph.D., will also discuss his latest research on how multiple sclerosis affects the brain at the event. 

Hanson was diagnosed with MS 16 years ago and understands the reality of living with the chronic illness including the first-hand benefits of focusing on one’s health. 

“More than anything in the world, I care about helping the people I work with realize they don’t have to be afraid of, worried about, or be in a constant battle with their body,” said Hanson.

Dr. Rypma, whose research has found that MS spurs fundamental changes in brain function, was recently awarded more than $490,000 from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society to further investigate how changes in brain blood flow impact cognition for individuals with MS. 

“Still, very little is known about what changes occur in the brain that cause cognitive slowing in MS,” said Rypma. “Using fMRI to examine brain blood flow, we hope to pinpoint the brain systems responsible.”

In addition to sharing her personal account of MS, Hanson will be available to sign her book Live Your Life, Not Your Diagnosis: How to Manage Stress and Live Well with Multiple Sclerosis before and after the lecture.

The lecture will take place at the Center for BrainHealth located at 2200 West Mockingbird Lane in Dallas.  

To register for the free event, contact Peyton Blackwell by phone at 972.883.3258 or by email at

Center for BrainHealth

New study seeks to simplify medical decision-making for patients who face life-changing choices

Friday, July 22, 2016

The Center for BrainHealth is part of an eight- university collaboration that will investigate decision-making in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), an autoimmune disease that affects the whole body. Lead investigator, Susan Blalock, M.P.H., Ph.D., at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, approached Center for BrainHealth founder and chief director, Sandra Bond Chapman, Ph.D., about collaborating on the study after reviewing research articles on the cognitive benefits of Strategic Memory Advanced Reasoning Training (SMART), a strategy-based brain training program developed at the Center.

The SMART program strategies target an individual’s ability to “get the essence,” or gist, from densely complex information. Through this collaborative study, researchers hope to improve medication self- management among patients with rheumatoid arthritis.

“RA is a condition that can place patients at increased risk of heart and lung disease,” explained Blalock. “However, many patients are reluctant to use medications that have the potential to cause serious side effects as long as their symptoms like pain, stiffness and fatigue are manageable.”

Researchers aim to determine if providing patients with clearer treatment information and strategies to evaluate that information improve their ability to manage their disease.

“We were very impressed with the increases in reasoning and judgement demonstrated by participants who completed SMART. In the new study, we will see if SMART helps RA patients make more informed decisions concerning the treatment options available to them. It is important that they understand the risks and benefits of all treatment options,” said Blalock.

Researchers will evaluate two different information delivery techniques: A medication guide leaflet that comes with the prescription versus a lay-friendly two-page document that summarizes drug benefits and risks in the DrugFactsBox® format developed by Steven Woloshin, M.D. and Lisa Schwartz, M.D., at Dartmouth University.

“Past studies involving SMART have shown benefits in different populations ranging from traumatic brain injury and financial decision- making to middle school student achievement and older individuals with memory complaints,” said Molly Keebler, M.S., CCC/SLP, head of community programs at the Center for BrainHealth. “We look forward to seeing to what extent SMART can help and empower individuals with RA.”

Other study collaborators include researchers from Carnegie Mellon University, Cornell University, University of Pittsburgh, UT Southwestern Medical Center, and The University of Alabama at Birmingham. The study will include 300 participants and will span three years.

This research is funded by Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) through UNC-CH.

Center for BrainHealth

Mental, Physical Exercises Produce Distinct Brain Benefits

Friday, July 15, 2016

Cognitive brain training improves executive function whereas aerobic activity improves memory, according to new Center for BrainHealth research at The University of Texas at Dallas.

The study, published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, found that healthy adults who participated in cognitive training demonstrated positive changes in executive brain function as well as a 7.9 percent increase in global brain flow compared to study counterparts who participated in an aerobic exercise program. The aerobic exercise group showed increases in immediate and delayed memory performance that were not seen in the cognitive training group. The randomized trial is the first to compare cerebral blood flow and cerebrovascular reactivity data obtained via MRI.

“Many adults without dementia experience slow, continuous and significant age-related changes in the brain, specifically in the areas of memory and executive function, such as planning and problem-solving,” said Dr. Sandra Bond Chapman, study lead author, founder and chief director of the Center for BrainHealth, and Dee Wyly Distinguished University Professor. “We can lose 1-2 percent in global brain blood flow every decade, starting in our 20s. To see almost an 8 percent increase in brain blood flow in the cognitive training group may be seen as regaining decades of brain health since blood flow is linked to neural health.”

For the study, 36 sedentary adults ages 56-75 years were randomized into either a cognitive training or a physical training group. Each group took part in training three hours per week over 12 weeks. Neurocognitive, physiological, and MRI data were taken before, during and after training. The cognitive group received Strategic Memory Advanced Reasoning Training (SMART), a manualized brain training developed at the Center for BrainHealth. The strategy-based training focuses on three executive functions: strategic attention (prioritizing brain resources); integrative reasoning (synthesizing information at a deeper level); and innovation (encouraging fluid thinking, diverse perspective-taking, and problem solving). The physical training group completed three, 60-minute sessions per week that included five minutes of warmup and cool down with 50 minutes of either walking on a treadmill or cycling on a stationary bike while maintaining 50-75 percent of maximum heart rate.

“Most people tell me that they want a better memory and notice memory changes as they get older,” said Dr. Mark D’Esposito, study co-author and 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. “While memory is important, executive functions such as decision-making and the ability to synthesize information are equally, if not more so, but we often take them for granted. The takeaway: Aerobic activity and reasoning training are both valuable tools that give your brain a boost in different ways.”

The research team attributes the global cerebral blood flow gains to concerted mental effort during the reasoning training.

“We believe the reasoning training triggered neural plasticity by engaging the brain networks involved in staying focused on a goal, such as writing a brief business proposal, while continuously adapting to new information, such as feedback from a collaborator,” Chapman said.

The aerobic exercise group did not show significant global blood flow gains, however the exercisers with improved memory performance showed higher cerebral blood flow in the bilateral hippocampi, an area underlying memory function and particularly vulnerable to aging and dementia.

“Our research has shown that all brain training protocols do not return equal benefits. When targeting the brain functions that give us a mental edge in daily life, strategy-based programs prevail,” Chapman said. “This study highlights the potential to accelerate brain health in healthy adults by adopting lifestyle habits that exercise the mind and body. Future trials are needed to further develop and test neuroprotective programs that unite physical and cognitive training protocols for the highest health returns starting early and continuing into late life.”

Dr. Laura DeFina, chief executive officer of The Cooper Institute in Dallas and collaborator on the study, says the findings are encouraging.

“We know that physical activity can lead to improved fitness levels. In our Cooper Center Longitudinal Study population, higher fitness has been shown to result in less all-cause dementia with aging,” DeFina said. “The current study highlights the benefit of training both the body and the brain, as both produce observable benefits. The initial findings are encouraging and underscore the need for a multifaceted approach when it comes to brain health.”

This work was supported by a grant from the National Institutes of Health and by grants from the Lyda Hill Foundation, T. Boone Pickens Foundation, and the Dee Wyly Distinguished University Endowment.

doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2016.00338 

Center for BrainHealth

Belief and the Brain in Addiction - Q&A with Dr. Xiaosi Gu

Friday, June 24, 2016

Xiaosi Gu, Ph.D., is an associate professor at UT Dallas and head of the Computational Psychiatry Unit at the Center for BrainHealth. Her recent research received attention from top scientists and praise from the director of NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse), Nora Volkow, Ph.D., who said, “The report by Gu et al. in PNAS [Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences] represents an important step forward...this work illuminates the mechanisms whereby belief can influence nonconscious learned association...”

The study, published in collaboration with scientists from across the U.S. and Europe, investigates the question: In terms of drug abuse, or substance abuse disorder, how much does belief influence the brain’s response to a neuroactive drug?

Why do this study?

If you tell people that they are getting a new effective drug, but actually give them a sugar pill, they typically show some treatment response more than 50% of the time, meaning above chance level. That’s known as the placebo effect. It's very mysterious, but explains why when you take a pill, whether or not the pill is going to work has a lot to do with whether or not you believe in it.

However, it is noteworthy that our finding is related, but is NOT a placebo effect – because we found belief of “no nicotine” can tune down the effect of nicotine, when nicotine is actually present in the brain.

What belief are you testing?
The actual belief is very simple. It’s only about whether or not there is nicotine in the cigarette. We wanted to know: Does believing whether or not there is nicotine in the cigarette change how the brain responds to the substance?

Why nicotine?
From a tactical research perspective, nicotine, the primary addictive substance in tobacco, is a legal substance that is easily accessible and has a fairly realistic placebo in cigarette form.

How do you test the brain’s response?
All study participants, people who had smoked at least a half a pack of cigarettes a day for the last seven years, visited the lab on four different occasions. Each time they underwent an fMRI scan, but each time it was under a different condition:

They were told they were given a nicotine cigarette but received placebo;
They were told they were given a placebo but received a nicotine cigarette;
They were told they were given a nicotine cigarette and received nicotine;
They were told they were given a placebo and received placebo.

Our study looked at the brain’s reward processing system. Using functional magnetic resonance (fMRI) imaging, we can indirectly measure dopamine, the neurotransmitter in the brain’s reward system that regulates emotion, motivation and that nice, satisfying feeling related to natural rewards like food, sex, music or money.

What were you expecting to see in the brain?
We expected the reward system to light up with dopamine when the study participants smoked nicotine cigarettes, regardless of their belief.

What did you find?
Even if they were smoking a real cigarette but they believed that it did not contain nicotine, their reward system did not respond.

It’s a very unexpected result. We did not anticipate belief would have this strong of an effect. We expected the nicotine group to show some reward response in the imaging data despite how they believed, but very surprisingly we did not see anything at all.

Are these findings controversial?
These findings drastically contrast with conventional neuroscience ideas about nicotine that focus on the molecular level and show the advantage of studying human participants. We were able to see a ‘top down’ effect that could never be modeled with rodents. We were able to study very high-level and abstract computational systems because we could ask people what they thought, and we could manipulate what they thought. This approach offers important ecological validity, because we know that in drug addiction these abstract beliefs play a very important role.

What’s the take-away message?
These results suggest that for drugs to have an effect on you, you also need to believe that they are going to have an effect.

Center for BrainHealth

Study: Training Helps Those with Mild Cognitive Impairment

Saturday, June 18, 2016

New research from the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas shows that strategy-based reasoning training can improve the cognitive performance for those with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), a preclinical stage of those at risk for Alzheimer’s disease.

The study, in collaboration with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, was recently published online in the open-access journal International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.

“Changes in memory associated with MCI are often disconcerting, but cognitive challenges such as lapses in sound decision-making and judgment can have potentially worse consequences,” said Dr. Sandra Bond Chapman, founder and chief director at the Center for BrainHealth and Dee Wyly Distinguished University Professor in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences. “Interventions that mitigate cognitive deterioration without causing side effects may provide an additive, safe option for individuals who are worried about brain and memory changes.”

For the study, 50 adults ages 54-94 with amnestic MCI were randomly assigned to either a strategy-based, gist reasoning training group or a new-learning control group. Each group received two hour-long training sessions each week. The gist reasoning group received and practiced strategies on how to absorb and understand complex information, and the new-learning group used an educational approach to teach and discuss facts about how the brain works and what factors influence brain health.

Strategies in the gist reasoning training group focused on higher-level brain functions such as strategic attention — the ability to block out distractions and irrelevant details and focus on what is important; integrated reasoning — the ability to synthesize new information by extracting a memorable essence, pearl of wisdom, or take-home message; and innovation — the ability to appreciate diverse perspectives, derive multiple interpretations and generate new ideas to solve problems.

Pre- and post-training assessments measured changes in cognitive functions between the two groups. The gist reasoning group improved in executive function (i.e., strategic attention to recall more important items over less-important ones) and memory span (i.e., how many details a person can hold in their memory after one exposure, such as a phone number). The new learning group improved in detail memory (i.e., a person’s ability to remember details from contextual information). Those in the gist reasoning group also saw gains in concept abstraction, or an individual’s ability to process and abstract relationships to find similarities (e.g., how are a car and a train alike).

 “Our findings support the potential benefit of gist reasoning training as a way to strengthen cognitive domains that have implications for everyday functioning in individuals with MCI,” said Dr. Raksha Mudar, study lead author and assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “We are excited about these preliminary findings, and we plan to study the long-term benefits and the brain changes associated with gist reasoning training in subsequent clinical trials.”

“Extracting sense from written and spoken language is a key daily life challenge for anyone with brain impairment, and this study shows that gist reasoning training significantly enhances this ability in a group of MCI patients,” said Dr. Ian Robertson, T. Boone Pickens Distinguished Scientist at the Center for BrainHealth and co-director of The Global Brain Health Initiative. “This is the first study of its kind and represents a very important development in the growing field of cognitive training for age-related cognitive and neurodegenerative disorders.”

“Findings from this study, in addition to our previous Alzheimer’s research, support the potential for cognitive training, and specifically gist reasoning training, to impact cognitive function for those with MCI,” said Audette Rackley, head of special programs at the Center for BrainHealth. “We hope studies like ours will aid in the development of multidimensional treatment options for an ever-growing number of people with concerns about memory in the absence of dementia.”

This work was made possible by grants from the RGK Foundation, AWARE, BvB Dallas and the Sammons Enterprises Inc.

Center for BrainHealth

Study Shows Long-Term Marijuana Use Changes Brain's Reward Circuit

Monday, June 6, 2016

Chronic marijuana use disrupts the brain’s natural reward processes, according to researchers at the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas.

In a paper published in Human Brain Mapping, researchers demonstrated for the first time with functional magnetic resonance imaging that long-term marijuana users had more brain activity in the mesocorticolimbic-reward system when presented with cannabis cues than with natural reward cues.

“This study shows that marijuana disrupts the natural reward circuitry of the brain, making marijuana highly salient to those who use it heavily. In essence, these brain alterations could be a marker of transition from recreational marijuana use to problematic use,” said Dr. Francesca Filbey, director of Cognitive Neuroscience Research in Addictive Disorders at the Center for BrainHealth and associate professor in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences.

Researchers studied 59 adult marijuana users and 70 nonusers, accounting for potential biases such as traumatic brain injury and other drug use. Study participants rated their urge to use marijuana after looking at various visual cannabis cues, such as a pipe, bong, joint or blunt, and self-selected images of preferred fruit, such as a banana, an apple, grapes or an orange.

Researchers also collected self-reports from study participants to measure problems associated with marijuana use. On average, marijuana participants had used the drug for 12 years.

When presented with marijuana cues compared to fruit, marijuana users showed enhanced response in the brain regions associated with reward, such as the orbitofrontal cortex, striatum, anterior cingulate gyrus, precuneus and the ventral tegmental area.

“We found that this disruption of the reward system correlates with the number of problems, such as family issues, individuals have because of their marijuana use,” Filbey said. “Continued marijuana use despite these problems is an indicator of marijuana dependence.”

The research was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Center for BrainHealth

Q&A with Leanne Young

Friday, May 27, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Center for BrainHealth

#MyBrainHealthMatters Campaign

Thursday, May 5, 2016

What does #MyBrainHealthMatters mean?

The Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas launched #MyBrainHealthMatters to encourage others to start thinking and talking about their brain's health - how they keep it fit and go about enhancing its performance.

The majority of the population only stops to think about the complexity of their brain and its health when something goes wrong with it. Although efforts have been directed to better understanding how the human brain works and fails to work, we have only begun to scratch the surface. 

The majority of us have the chance to achieve better brain health each and every day. With that in mind, the #MyBrainHealthMatters campaign is focused on: 

 Raising awareness about brain health and its importance. 

 Educating people about their ability to enhance their brain's health and cognitive performance at any age.



Be part of the #MyBrainHealthMatters movement:




For more information, visit Dr. Chapman's recent Huffington Post blog.

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








Center for BrainHealth

Reprogramming the Brain to Health Symposium 2016

Monday, May 2, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

Center for BrainHealth

Friends of BrainHealth 2014 Award Updates

Monday, May 2, 2016

Priming the Minds of Elementary Students for Middle School better

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

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


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

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

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

Center for BrainHealth

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

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

Center for BrainHealth

Prestigious Placement for BrainHealth Postdoc

Thursday, April 7, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

Center for BrainHealth

Dr. Dianna Jaffin: Advancing Human Performance Optimization

Monday, April 4, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Center for BrainHealth

Fostering Brain Growth

Thursday, March 31, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Center for BrainHealth

Grant to Help Brain Scientists Dig Deeper into Detecting Deception

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Center for BrainHealth

Brain Awareness Week 2016

Thursday, March 17, 2016

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

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


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

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



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

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


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

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



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

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


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

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

Center for BrainHealth

Robert Rennaker Appointed Chief of Neuroengineering at Center for BrainHealth

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Center for BrainHealth

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

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Center for BrainHealth

Neuropsychologist Brings Extensive Research Experience to BrainHealth

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Center for BrainHealth

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

Thursday, February 11, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For additional Symposium registration information, visit

Center for BrainHealth

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

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Center for BrainHealth

Building Camaraderie for Veterans: Highland Capital Management

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Center for BrainHealth

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

Monday, November 30, 2015


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Lecture tickets go on sale December 1, 2015 at*

Center for BrainHealth

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

Thursday, November 12, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

About Ciber

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

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

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

Center for BrainHealth

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

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 of Alzheimer’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.

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.”

Researchers 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.

“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- ma