In 2008, Associate Professor Vivek Prabhakaran, MD, PhD started the Neuroimaging Research Program. The lab uses multimodal neuroimaging tools and advanced analyses approaches to study neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s ability to recover from and adapt to changes due to injury or aging. The lab’s core personnel are from the Departments of Radiology, Neuroradiology, and Medical Physics, but they frequently collaborate with researchers and clinicians in other departments to best tackle their neuroimaging projects. Continue reading to learn more about this lab’s exciting research.
The Neuroimaging Research Program works on a wide variety of projects, as they frequently collaborate with investigators from outside the lab to assist on their neuroimaging research. The core lab focuses on brain plasticity changes in aging and in various patient populations, including patients that have strokes, vascular lesions, brain tumors, epilepsy, Alzheimer’s disease, and traumatic brain injuries.
Some of the lab’s biggest projects have focused on strokes. “We have looked at spontaneous recovery after stroke, as well as have developed a novel rehabilitation tool using brain computer interface technology to guide recovery after stroke,” says Dr. Prabhakaran.
The lab recently finished working on two large brain connectome studies in collaboration with the Medical College of Wisconsin. Connectome studies look to map the various neural connections in the brain, and help researchers understand what is different in a brain of a person with an injury or illness so that they can determine the best treatment options. These studies specifically looked to map the brains of epilepsy patients and patients Alzheimer’s Disease. Currently, the lab is using similar advanced neuroimaging techniques to study juvenile myoclonic epilepsy (JME) in patients between 12- and 20-years old.
There are many interesting projects in process in the lab. One research focus is mapping neural substrates involved in cognitive processes, such as working memory and reasoning, and validating these brain maps using different patient populations, such as stroke patients. Brain mapping identifies structures involved in language, memory, vision, and sensorimotor processes so that clinicians avoid these areas during treatment.
The lab is also developing tools to help with brain mapping. One of the tools they are working on is fMRI/DTI, which is used for brain mapping prior to surgery for brain tumors, vascular lesions, and epilepsy. The tool is being developed for clinical use. The lab is also researching fMRI/TMS for validation of brain mapping and fMRI/EEG for seizure localization.
Dr. Prabhakaran hopes to expand on these current research projects in the future. “Our future projects will focus on characterizing the stroke connectome and more stroke rehabilitation studies, as well as intervention studies to improve memory in older patients at risk for dementia. We will utilize multimodal neuroimaging and advanced neuroimaging analyses for all these projects,” he says.
In addition, the lab will keep fostering projects with external investigators conducting neuroimaging research. “We continue to provide support to other groups interested in using neuroimaging tools to study various topics from traumatic brain injury, delirium, migraine, Zika virus,” says Dr. Prabhakaran.
One of the things that makes the Neuroimaging Research Program unique is the various backgrounds of the researchers involved. “We are a rather diverse group including scientists, a postdoc, and several grad students of different nationalities. The grad students come from different educational backgrounds, such as biomedical and electrical engineering, medical physics, neuroscience, and psychology. This diversity adds new experiences and perspectives to our research,” says Veena Nair, PhD, Senior Scientist in the lab.
Learn more about the lab’s current research at: https://radiology.wisc.edu/research/research-labs-and-groups/neuroimaging-research-program/