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RCBI: Rochester Center for Brain Imaging


SMD Student David Paul (M.D. ’16) Wins National Cadbury Award for Academic and Volunteer Achievements

David Paul, SMD Student received the National Cadbury Award for Academic and Volunteer Achievements. His pilot research offers new insights about how the brain fixes itself. This research is conducted at the Rochester Center for Brain Imaging.

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New imaging technique helps predict how vision recovers after brain tumor removal

An interdisciplinary team of University neuroscientists and neurosurgeons has used a new imaging technique to show how the human brain heals itself in just a few weeks following surgical removal of a brain tumor.

In a study featured on the cover of the current issue of the journal Science Translational Medicine, the team found that recovery of vision in patients with pituitary tumors is predicted by the integrity of myelin—the insulation that wraps around connections between neurons—in the optic nerves.

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Richard Aslin Elected to National Academy of Sciences

Richard N. Aslin, PhD, the William R. Kenan Professor of Brain and Cognitive Sciences and director of the Rochester Center for Brain Imaging at the University of Rochester, has been elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS).

Membership in the academy is one of the highest honors given to a scientist or engineer in the United States. Aslin will be inducted into the academy next April during its 151st annual meeting in Washington, D.C.

Aslin received his doctorate in child psychology from the University of Minnesota in 1975, and taught at Indiana University before joining Rochester in 1984. Today, he is the principal investigator of the Rochester Baby Lab. He is an author of more than 100 publications and an editor or contributor to 36 books. Aslin serves on the editorial boards of the journals Infancy, Language Learning and Development, and Cognitive Science, and is an associate editor for Developmental Science. He was elected a fellow of the Cognitive Science Society in 2012.

Aslin's research has been supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the McDonnell Foundation, and the Packard Foundation. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and he is the immediate past-president of the International Society for Infant Studies.

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Study Suggests New Way of Thinking about Brain Injury – As Autoimmune Disorder

Most scientists are starting to agree that repeat, sub-concussive hits to the head are dangerous and linked to neurological disorders later in life. A new collaborative study, though, attempted to find out why – and discovered that damage to the blood-brain barrier and the resulting autoimmune response might be the culprit.

Published in journal PLOS ONE by the University of Rochester Medical Center and the Cleveland Clinic, the research suggests a new way of thinking about concussions: That the brain degeneration observed among professional football players (including the much-publicized chronic traumatic encephalopathy) could result from an out-of-control immune response, similar to what multiple sclerosis patients experience. If so, this opens the door to investigating a vaccine or drug therapy to prevent head trauma.

Although he emphasized that the research is preliminary, co-author Jeffrey J. Bazarian, M.D., M.P.H., associate professor of Emergency Medicine at URMC, said it’s exciting to discover a theory that appears to fit with the reality of what experts observe among athletes. Bazarian worked closely with lead investigator Damir Janigro, Ph.D., professor of Molecular Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, and 67 college football players from northeast Ohio and Rochester, N.Y., who agreed to participate in the research.

Read further on the URMC News site. Dr. Jeffrey Bazarian conducted research at the Rochester Center for Brain Imaging to look for protein biomarkers after traumatic brain injury

TEDxCHUV - Daphne Bavelier - Your brains on action games

Surprisingly, playing what most of society perceives as potentially harmful games results into long lasting beneficial effects on brain and behavior; in contrast, multimedia tasking an activity cherished by our society has detrimental impacts. Clearly the effect of media use are far from intuitive! Daphne Bavelier, PhD is an internationally-recognized expert on how humans learn. In particular, she studies how the brain adapts to changes in experience, either by nature - for example, deafness - or by training - for example, playing video games.

Combat Brain Injuries Linked to PTSD

Brain injuries so subtle they're detected only by a very sensitive scan may predispose combat soldiers to post-traumatic stress disorder, U.S. researchers say. Lead author Jeffrey J. Bazarian of the University of Rochester Medical Center said the nature of the interaction between traumatic brain injury and PTSD had been unclear until now. Most people believe that, to a large extent, chronic stress from intense combat experiences triggers PTSD, Bazarian said in a statement. Our study adds more information by suggesting that a physical force such as exposure to a bomb blast also may play a role in the genesis of the syndrome. (Also reported in: Science Daily, Business Insider)

Request for Proposals for CTSI Pilot and Collaborative Studies - 2012

The Pilot and Collaborative Translational and Clinical Studies Key Function of the CTSI is requesting applications from investigators for funding of pilot pro­jects. Four types of awards will be considered for the current RFP: (1) Investiga­tor-initiated pilot studies for faculty ($50,000 maximum for one year); (2) Investi­gator-initiated pilot studies for trainees (defined as graduate students, medical students, residents, or fellows in University of Rochester training programs; $25,000 maximum for 1 year); (3) UNYTE Translational Research Network grants ($50,000 maximum for 1 year); and (4) Novel Biostatistical and Epidemiologic Methodology grants ($20,000 for a 1-2 year period).

Applicants must submit a one-page abstract of their proposal as detailed in the at­tached RFP by Monday, July 30, 2012.

Please contact Mary Little at or (585) 275-0653 if you have any questions.

Study Links PTSD to Hidden Head Injuries Suffered in Combat

Even when brain injury is so subtle that it can only be detected by an ultra-sensitive imaging test, the injury might predispose soldiers in combat to post-traumatic stress disorder, according to a University of Rochester Medical Center study.

Interestingly, PTSD severity did not correlate with the clinical diagnosis of mild TBI. This suggests that subtle brain injury can occur without producing the loss of consciousness or amnesia that is typically associated with diagnosis of mild TBI, and that this injury may make a person more vulnerable to psychiatric illness when coupled with extreme chronic stress.

Based on our results, it looks like the only way to detect this injury is with DTI/MRI, Bazarian said. While it may not be feasible due to costs and limited availability of some neuro-imaging tests to screen thousands of service members for brain injury, our study highlights the pressing need to develop simpler tests that are accurate and practical, that correlate with brain injury.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs funded the study. Co-authors: Kerry Donnelly, Ph.D., of the VA Western New York Healthcare System- Buffalo; Derick Peterson, Ph.D., of the Department of Biostatistics and Computational Biology at URMC; Gary Warner, Ph.D., of the Canandaigua VA Medical Center; and Tong Zhu, PhD, and Jianhui Zhong, PhD, of the Department of Radiology at URMC.

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Army finds simple blood test to identify mild brain trauma

The Army says it has discovered a simple blood test that can diagnose mild traumatic brain damage or concussion, a hard-to-detect injury that can affect young athletes, infants with "shaken baby syndrome" and combat troops.

Doctors can miss these injuries because the damage does not show up on imaging scans, and symptoms such as headaches or dizziness are ignored or downplayed by the victims. If the brain is not allowed time to recover and a second concussion occurs, permanent damage may result. Brain injuries afflict 1.4 million Americans each year, says the National Brain Injury Association. Seventy percent are mild cases.

Dr. Jeffrey Bazarian conducted this initial research with 34 patients at the Rochester Center for Brain Imaging to look for unique proteins in the blood stream after mild traumatic brain injury

Original article at

Brain Innately Separates Living and Non-Living Objects for Processing

For unknown reasons, the human brain distinctly separates the handling of images of living things from images of non-living things, processing each image type in a different area of the brain. For years, many scientists have assumed the brain segregated visual information in this manner to optimize processing the images themselves, but new research shows that even in people who have been blind since birth the brain still separates the concepts of living and non-living objects.

The research, published in today's issue of Neuron, implies that the brain categorizes objects based on the different types of subsequent consideration they demand - such as whether an object is edible, or is a landmark on the way home, or is a predator to run from. They are not categorized entirely by their appearance.

"If both sighted people and people with blindness process the same ideas in the same parts of the brain, then it follows that visual experience is not necessary in order for those aspects of brain organization to develop," says Bradford Zack Mahon, PhD, postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at the University of Rochester, and lead author of the study. "We think this means significant parts of the brain are innately structured around a few domains of knowledge that were critical in humans' evolutionary history."

Previous studies have shown that the sight of certain objects, such as a table or mountain, activate regions of the brain other than does the sight of living objects, such as an animal or face - but why the brain would choose to process these two categories differently has remained a mystery, says Mahon. Since the regions were known to activate when the objects were seen, scientists wondered if something about the visual appearance of the objects determined how the brain would process them. For instance, says Mahon, most living things have curved forms, and so many scientists thought the brain prefers to processes images of living things in an area that is optimized for curved forms.

To see if the appearance of objects is indeed key to how the brain conducts its processing, Mahon and his team, led by Alfonso Caramazza, director of the Cognitive Neuropsychology Laboratory at Harvard University, asked people who have been blind since birth to think about certain living and non-living objects. These people had no visual experience at all, so their brains necessarily determined where to do the processing using some criteria other than an object's appearance.

"When we looked at the MRI scans, it was pretty clear that blind people and sighted people were dividing up living and non-living processing in the same way," says Mahon. "We think these findings strongly encourage the view that the human brain's organization innately anticipates the different types of computations that must be carried out for different types of objects."

Mahon thinks it's possible that other parts of the human brain are innately structured around categories of knowledge that may have been important in human evolution. For instance, he says, facial expressions need a specific kind of processing linked to understanding emotions, whereas a landmark needs to be processed in conjunction with a sense of spatial awareness. The brain might choose to process these things in different areas of the brain because those areas have strong connections to other processing centers specializing in emotion or spatial awareness, says Mahon.

Mahon is now working on new experiments designed to further our understanding of how the brain represents knowledge of different classes of objects, both in sighted and blind individuals, as well as in stroke patients.

The data for the study were collected at the Center for Mind/Brain Sciences at the University of Trento in Italy.

NSF-Funded Researcher Seeks to Acquire Medical Images Faster and Diagnosis Disease Earlier

The National Science Foundation has awarded Mathews Jacob, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Biological Engineering at the University of Rochester, its CAREER Award. The five-year award will fund his research into the design of computer programs that accelerate the capture of high-resolution images, and that promise to enable early diagnosis of cancer in particular. The team's goal is to help realize the potential of imaging technologies like magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and to make sought-after clinical applications possible for the first time.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that funds about 20 percent of basic research conducted by America's universities, with one focus being mathematics and computer science. The Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program awards grants to junior faculty who exemplify the dual teacher-scholar role, and those promise to become lifetime leaders. The $399,600 grant began on July 1, 2009.

Jacob's award-funded project is titled "Efficient Image Sparsifying Operators: Theory, Algorithms and Applications." The goal of the project is to develop algorithms that enable the compression of high-resolution images. Compressed data can be acquired faster. Certain valuable techniques are currently unrealistic because they generate too much data for current systems to handle . To get clear images, they would require patients to remain perfectly still inside scanners for long periods of time. Jacob's work has the potential to considerably shorten such scans.

He is especially interested in designing new methods to speed up MRI, an imaging technology that uses a magnet and radio frequency waves to create images of organs and soft tissues with no exposure to radiation. A related technique, MR spectroscopic imaging captures chemical information about the organ, while routine MRI only captures its shape. The potential of MR spectroscopy lies in the fact that cancer can be detected by imaging related chemical imbalances long before a tumor grows big enough to change the shape of organs. Unfortunately, gathering information on trace amounts of disease-related chemicals with current technologies requires prohibitively long scans.

To realize the promise of these technologies, researchers need to improve the current mathematical techniques used to reduce the redundancy in natural images. Images are captured in pixels, the dots that make up a picture. At the heart of Jacob's computational methods are new techniques for reducing the amount of information needed to accurately re-create an image.

While older techniques must capture data on every pixel in a picture, Jacob is designing programs (transforms, operators) that recognize many pixels may have the same value. By reducing redu ndancy, one can drastically reduce the amount of information to be collected, which profoundly accelerates the speed of acquiring images.

In related work, Jacob leads a project titled "Model-based MR Spectroscopic Imaging for Brain Cancer Treatment Planning", which is funded by the Clinical and Translational Science Institute at the University of Rochester Medical Center. His laboratory, the Computational Biomedical Imaging Group, is located within the Rochester Center for Brain Imaging. One purpose of these centers is to gather functional MRI (fMRI) data, which shows where blood rushes to in the brain as a person performs a given task.

Currently functional MRI scans are restricted to a low resolution images, Jacob said. We are working on technologies that will enable researchers to clearly see which brain structures turn on as our eyes capture a picture, as we move our limbs, as we have a thought or feel an emotion, in terms of a two-second blood rush. Related insights will improve our basic understanding of brain function, launch new treatment approaches for major diseases and empower efforts to restore sight and movement to the disabled.

It is great to see the quality of Mathews' work recognized in this way, said Richard Waugh, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Rochester. These awards are the gold standard for identifying top young faculty in engineering fields and it is a great honor to be selected.

Scientists Watch As Listener's Brain Predicts Speaker's Words

Scientists at the University of Rochester have shown for the first time that our brains automatically consider many possible words and their meanings before we've even heard the final sound of the word.

Previous theories have proposed that listeners can only keep pace with the rapid rate of spoken language (up to 5 syllables per second) by anticipating a small subset of all words known by the listener, much like Google search anticipates words and phrases as you type. This subset consists of all words that begin with the same sounds, such as "candle", "candy," and "cantaloupe," and makes the task of understanding the specific word more efficient than waiting until all the sounds of the word have been presented.

But until now, researchers had no way to know if the brain also considers the meanings of these possible words. The new findings are the first time that scientists, using an MRI scanner, have been able to actually see this split-second brain activity. The study was a team effort among former Rochester graduate student Kathleen Pirog Revill, now a postdoctoral researcher at Georgia Tech, and three faculty members in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at the University of Rochester.

"We had to figure out a way to catch the brain doing something so fast that it happens literally between spoken syllables," says Michael Tanenhaus, the Beverly Petterson Bishop and Charles W. Bishop Professor. "The best tool we have for brain imaging of this sort is functional MRI, but an fMRI takes a few seconds to capture an image, so people thought it just couldn't be done."

But it could be done. It just took inventing a new language to do it.

With William R. Kenan Professor Richard N. Aslin, PhD and Professor Daphne Bavelier, PhD, Pirog Revill focused on a tiny part of the brain called "V5," which is known to be activated when a person sees motion. The idea was to teach undergraduates a set of invented words, some of which meant "movement," and then to watch and see if the V5 area became activated when the subject heard words that sounded similar to the ones that meant "movement."

For instance, as a person hears the word "kitchen," the Rochester team would expect areas of the brain that would normally become active when a person thought of words like "kick" to momentarily show increased blood flow in an fMRI scan. But the team couldn't use English words because a word as simple as "kick" has so many nuances of meaning. To one person it might mean to kick someone in anger, to another it might mean to be kicked, or to kick a winning goal. The team had to create a set of words that had similar beginning syllables, but with different ending syllables and distinct meanings one of which meant motion of the sort that would activate the V5 area.

The team created a computer program that showed irregular shapes and gave the shapes specific names, like "goki". They also created new verb words. Some, like "biduko" meant "the shape will move across the screen," whereas some, like "biduka," meant the shape would just change color.

After a number of students learned the new words well enough, the team tested them as they lay in an fMRI scanner. The students would see one of the shapes on a monitor and hear "biduko," or "biduka". Though only one of the words actually meant "motion", the V5 area of the brain still activated for both, although less so for the color word than for the motion word. The presence of some activation to the color word shows that the brain, for a split-econd, considered the motion meaning of both possible words before it heard the final, discriminating syllable - ka rather than ko.

"Frankly, we're amazed we could detect something so subtle," says Aslin. "But it just makes sense that your brain would do it this way. Why wait until the end of the word to try to figure out what its meaning is? Choosing from a little subset is much faster than trying to match a finished word against every word in your vocabulary."

The Rochester team is already planning more sophisticated versions of the test that focus on other areas of the brain besides V5, uch as areas that activate for specific sounds or touch sensations. Bavelier says they're also planning to watch the brain sort out meaning when it is forced to take syntax into account. For instance, "blind venetian" and "venetian blind" are the same words but mean completely different things. How does the brain narrow down the meaning in such a case? How does the brain take the conversation's context into consideration when zeroing in on meaning?

"This opens a doorway into how we derive meaning from language," says Tanenhaus. "This is a new paradigm that can be used in countless ways to study how the brain responds to very brief events. We're very excited to see where it will lead us."

Cognition Professor Selected as a Finalist for New York Academy of Sciences Award

Daphne Bavelier, PhD, professor of Brain and Cognitive Sciences has been selected as a finalist for the 2008 New York Academy of Sciences Blavatnik Award for her research which was recognized as "Outstanding with regards to its scientific potential, innovation and broad impact"

As a finalist, Daphne will receive $10,000 and if she is among the 3 finalist who are presented the award at the New York Academy of Sciences" annual Science & the City Gala on November 17th, she will receive an additional $15,000

Bavelier's research focuses on the plasticity of the human brain as she seeks to learn how the brain is altered by experiences. She hopes to learn what techniques could be developed to harness the natural plasticity of the brain to support recovery from neurological disease or maintenance of cognitive abilities during aging. Bavelier's most recent work looks into the possibility that emerging technologies, such as video games, may be harnessed to enhance brain functions.

Bavelier uses behavior monitoring, brain imaging, and eye tracking to study how individuals learn and adapt to changes induced by nature, such as deafness, or by training, such as in playing a video game. She has found that brain plasticity is highly specific. Lifelong deafness enhances only one aspect of vision: peripheral visual attention. The consequences of that one change range from enhanced visual search abilities to possibly differences in reading patterns, providing valuable information for deaf education. Plasticity induced by training shows individuals tend to improve on the task they were trained on, but not on other, even closely related, tasks.

Recently, however, Bavelier has discovered that playing certain types of video games induces a vast array of improvements in vision, decision-making and cognition that extend well beyond the specific tasks in the game.

Home-Based Monitoring Inventions Win Forbes Entrepreneurial Award

Two health-monitoring inventions and an identity confirmation system designed by senior engineering students at the University of Rochester have won the University's Charles and Janet Forbes Entrepreneurial Awards this year. The award comes with a prize of $3,600 for the first-place winner, and $1,500 for each of the second-place teams.

The first-place winners were biomedical engineering students James Bai, Sarah Hotaling, Huy Le, and Nathan Ross, who were supervised by Nick Kuzma, assistant professor of biomedical engineering. Their design, the "sAMY Monitor," is a small device that can track a patient's daily stress levels while being simple and non-invasive enough that it doesn't add to that stress. As part of a person's regular morning routine, a patient can simply place a small straw-like device in her mouth, and the device quickly measures the amount of amylase in the saliva. Amylase is released into the saliva during stress, so the device can make a reasonably accurate measurement fairly quickly, and can relay that information to a doctor or a computer where the data is stored. This can give doctors vital information about a patient's stress levels when the patient herself may not be aware she is stressed.

One of the devices that tied for second place was designed by biomedical engineering students Ashley Cronin, Nick Mikolenko, Brad Ochocki, and Brandon Smoller, who were supervised by Axel Wismueller, MD,PhD, associate professor of biomedical engineering. Their invention, the "ToiletMD," also provides a method to help elderly patients monitor their health from home. The device is designed to help the elderly to manage their own health and to alleviate the strain that an increasingly aging population will place on the healthcare system. Once fully integrated with a substance-identification system developed by Andrew Berger, associate professor of optics, the toilet will be able to detect many kinds of medication that pass through the body and into urine, and thus the device can tell if a patient has taken his proper doses. This form of monitoring prescription drug use could provide a simple way for elderly patients, especially those with some cognitive impairment, to remain living independently and safely at home, rather than under the constant supervision of a doctor or nurse.

Also tied for second place was the rKEY project by electronic and computer engineering students Kyle Aures, Scott Warren, Aaron Wescott, and Adam Williamson, and supervised by Gaurav Sharma, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering. The team adapted wireless technology to function as a keyless entry system that can identify different people approaching a door. A person simply holds a keycard with embedded radio frequency identification (RFID) technology near the door, and a detector reads the card and either unlocks the door, or if the card holder is a guest, the device provides a customized ring or "dingtone" to alert the owner of the house that a specific guest is at the door. This would allow the owner to know if the person at the door was a trusted friend. The system is readily re-programmed to disable lost or stolen RFIDs--a feature that offers improved security and convenience over conventional physical key-based systems.

The Charles and Janet Forbes Entrepreneurial Award was established in 1989 to encourage University undergraduate engineering students to consider the commercial potential of their design projects or research. Students, individually or in teams, compete by submitting a business plan for a manufacturing or a technical business, often based on their senior design projects.

Professor Richard Aslin named President of International Society on Infant Studies

Richard N. Aslin, PhD, the William R. Kenan Professor of Brain & Cognitive Sciences and director of the Rochester Center for Brain Imaging, has been named president-elect of the International Society on Infant Studies, a not-for-profit professional organization devoted to the promotion of research on the development of infants. Aslin is finishing a five-year term as editor of the Society's journal.

Aslin is director of the Rochester Center for Brain Imaging, which uses one of the world's most powerful magnetic resonance imaging systems to plumb the physiology of the brain. Among his many honors, he was awarded a Guggenheim fellowship in 1988, received the University's Robert and Pamela Goergen Award for Distinguished Contributions to Undergraduate Learning in 2001, and was elected as a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2006. He also has held the posts of dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and vice provost and dean of the College.

Before joining the Rochester faculty, Aslin was a faculty member at Indiana University at Bloomington, taught at the University of Minnesota, and was a visiting scientist at the University of Washington's Regional Primate Research Center.

He holds a bachelor's degree from Michigan State University and a doctorate in child psychology from the University of Minnesota.

Read more at the University of Rochester News site

News 10 Now: Head Injuries should be checked out

About a million people each year hit their heads hard enough that they have to go to the emergency room. But many others don't seek help until they've suffered chronic headaches, memory loss or other thinking troubles.

These are problems that stem from a concussion. "There is a lot of evidence that head injury, even concussion, can be a risk factor for the development of Alzheimer's later in life," said Dr. Jeff Bazarian of the University of Rochester Medical Center Department of Neurology.

Read more and watch the video on

13Wham: UR Doctors Research Brain Injury

A concussion is the most common head injury, but there is no reliable test to detect it and there is no effective treatment.

Researchers at the University of Rochester are now working on an easier, cheaper, and faster way to detect even minor head injuries. They have received a $1.5 million grant from the NIH to see if a simple blood test could determine how serious a concussion is.

Read more at the 13Wham Website.

Doctors will be performing their research by studying patients at the Strong Hospital emergency room and comparing blood test results with advanced digital imaging performed at the RCBI.


Concussion patients with a normal head CT scan may believe they are free of brain injury, but CT scans often miss damage at the molecular level, warns a new study. In fact, when doctors examine the nerve cells of concussion patients, the pattern of brain injury is identical for mild and severe concussions, says lead author Jeffrey J. Bazarian, a brain injury expert and an attending physician in the emergency department at Strong Memorial Hospital. In an article in the February Academic Emergency Medicine journal, Bazarian and colleagues say that a more accurate and rapid diagnostic test for concussion could lead to better treatment in the short term and might also prevent long-term neurological problems. "Unfortunately, the widespread use of the CT scan as the primary tool for diagnosing head injuries has biased the way we think about concussions," he says. "For many people, a more significant axonal injury has occurred, and this underlies the problems they have with motor skills and memory, and may also be a risk factor for later development of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases." Of more than 1.2 million Americans who seek emergency room care annually for mild head injuries, one of four patients continues to suffer from symptoms such as forgetfulness, headaches, and other cognitive defects that persist beyond one year.

Read more at the URMC News site