8 May 2017

MRI research meets Doppler Ultrasound, Cognitive Function and Wellbeing with CANTAB Research Grant

PhD student Claire Burley was one of four winners of our CANTAB Research Grant for 2016. Claire was awarded our UK award for her study titled 'Multi-modal assessment of brain health across the lifespan and between fitness groups. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) meets Doppler ultrasound, cognitive function and measures of well-being'. Having now completed the majority of her research, Claire tells us more about her research project and how The CANTAB Research Grant has helped.

I wanted to start this post by saying thank you so much to Cambridge Cognition for the award and support throughout my project!

I was over the moon when I found out I’d been awarded the CANTAB Research Grant. I genuinely wasn’t expecting it, knowing how popular and well known CANTAB is, as well as, the number of people measuring cognition in their research, that means a lot of people applying.

The CANTAB software has enabled me to add a really interesting component to my main PhD research study which is investigating different measures of brain health across the lifespan and fitness level in healthy individuals. I was initially focusing on measuring cerebrovascular reactivity (CVR) and brain blood flow using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and transcranial Doppler (TCD).

My main study expanded to include a number of other brain health measures including cognition, quality of life and stress reactivity. I am particularly interested in how these measures change across the lifespan in healthy ageing, how they are affected by neurodegenerative conditions (e.g., stroke and dementia), and how they can be modified through non-pharmacological interventions like physical activity. I’m also interested in whether these measures from different disciplines correlate with one another as well as with age and fitness.

Above images show a participant doing a fitness test on a stationary bike to determine maximum oxygen consumption (VO2max) and a Cerebrovascular Reactivity (CVR) protocol whilst having their brain blood flow (bilateral middle cerebral artery (MCA) blood flow velocity) measured with Transcranial Doppler (TCD) Ultrasound.

I had initially been using cognitive measures that were paper-based though these were not sophisticated or sensitive enough to detect differences between age and fitness groups. The CANTAB software has been specifically designed to detect subtle differences in performance, you can choose a number of cognitive tests to fit your research question and each one gives a number of outcome measures that you can analyse.

I chose to use the CANTAB Reaction Time, Multitasking, Paired Associates Learning, Spatial Working Memory and Emotion Recognition Task, as these target cognitive domains known to be affected by ageing and in conditions including dementia, stroke and depression, which are of particular interest to me.

The support team at Cambridge Cognition have been fantastic throughout my whole project. They helped me get set-up with using the software, responded quickly when I had technical issues and helped me easily extract the data for analysis. I presented my findings during the ‘Cutting edge neuroscience rapid fire session’ at the British Neuroscience (BNA) Festival in Birmingham last month which was a really great experience. I will also be presenting at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC) in London this summer. I have really enjoyed these experiences and really appreciate the opportunity to share my research with the wider scientific community and receive feedback.

I strongly urge anyone who is passionate about cognition and neurodegenerative conditions with a relevant research question to apply for this year’s CANTAB Research Grant. (The support team will certainly be happy to answer any questions you have about it).

I can’t thank the Cambridge Cognition team enough! Good luck with your applications 🙂 

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Claire Burley

PhD Student, University of Birmingham, UK

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