"University of Waterloo researchers are at the forefront of"
TH E F UL L S PE CT RU M Brain Research OF RE SE AR CH Dr. James Danckert is shown with Denise Marigold, a UW Social Psychology graduate student, trying on the eyetracker used in brain research. • University of Waterloo researchers are at the forefront of understanding the most complex structure existing in the universe — the human brain. • Through multi-faculty and collaborative research, Waterloo scientists are making new advances in neuroscience that are leading to ways of helping people cope with brain diseases, disorders and injuries. UW researchers are renowned internationally for their study of synaesthesia, an unusual perceptual condition. INNOVATIVE WATERLOO There is nothing more complex to understand in the universe than the human brain - the last and grandest biological frontier. “From recent advances in brain imaging, There’s new impetus by University of Waterloo researchers to delve into the it is becoming clear that the way the mysterious “gray matter” of the brain. Neuroscientific advances are clarifying how brain carries out cognitive functions like the brain functions and how to assist those with brain diseases, disorders and injuries. memory and language is more dynamic and malleable than originally thought. Understanding neurological disorders A concert of activity from interconnecting Multi-disciplinary and multi-faculty collaborations at Waterloo examine the unusual Dr. Eric Roy, Kinesiology-Psychology and Director of the Functional Abilities THE FULL SPECTRUM OF RESEARCH brain regions influences the quality and perceptual condition synaesthesia, how to improve life for those with brain ailments, Program for Seniors, researches neurocognitive and neuromotor mechanisms nature of what we perceive, remember and talk about.” and modelling large-scale neurobiological systems - the complex networks of nerve Research into the colourful underlying how movements are learned and controlled. He examines healthy young and older adults along with those having neurologic disorders such as cells in the brain. world of synaesthesia stroke, Alzheimer disease and traumatic brain injury. Another focus is the use • Dr. Myra Fernandes, UW Department of Psychology There are Waterloo kinesiologists studying the nervous system to aid people with of his cognitive neuropsychological model to identify forms of apraxia and to The Waterloo Synaesthesia Research Centre has become a world leader relate them to lesion localization in the brain. His applied research examines balance and gait problems, and to understand neurological disorders. Mathematicians in the study of this unusual perceptual condition. In synaesthesia, one cognitive and motor functioning in residents of long-term care facilities to “To uncover the secrets of the mind, are making progress into understanding hydrocephalus, a condition commonly known sensory experience such as seeing a number will stimulate another promote independence and mobility. Dr. Roy also studies the effects of neuroscientists must often delve into the experience - seeing that digit in a colour, for example. Sounds can induce concussion and traumatic brain injury. He is a consultant to the Ontario unusual. Strangely, much of what I know as water on the brain, and psychologists are researching brain development in children. senses of taste, while taste can produce feelings associated with touch. In Hockey League (Major Junior A) for neuropsychological assessments as part about the ‘normal’ brain comes from Among the renowned initiatives at UW are the Canada Research Chair in Cognitive the most-common form of synaesthesia, black digits or letters can cause of return-to-play guidelines for players who have suffered a concussion. studying patients who could recognize tools, Neuroscience; Centre for Applied Health Research; experiences of highly specific colours. Dr. Michael Dixon and Dr. Philip but not common animals, and synaesthetes Merikle, both of the Department of Psychology, founded the centre to Computational Neuroscience Research Group; Research who experience colours whenever they view ordinary black digits or letters.” Works! for child literacy; and the Waterloo Synaesthesia research the condition that has been recognized for centuries as much about it remains mysterious. A century ago, researchers described it as “crossed Mathematicians making progress • Dr. Michael Dixon, Research Centre. wires” in the brain. Currently, Waterloo researchers are using such things as behavioural tests, brain-imaging and molecular genetics to understand how in hydrocephalus brain studies UW Department of Psychology the brain normally organizes perception and cognition. “Our research shows A specialized area of brain research, led by Dr. Sivabal Sivaloganathan and that at least in some synaesthetes, their synaesthetic experiences are more Dr. Giuseppe Tenti (together with their postdoctoral and graduate students) “Shaped a little like a loaf of French country Brain activation of visual areas resulting from viewing moving concentric circles in Applied Mathematics, is into the theory of hydrocephalus. This condition is ~ Photo courtesy of Dr. James Danckert, University of Waterloo, Psychology like perception, not just memory associations,” Dr. Dixon said. “That’s what bread, our brain is a crowded chemistry lab, makes it so fascinating. For synaesthetes, the meaning of what they are commonly known as water on the brain, which if untreated leads to permanent bustling with nonstop neural conversations.” seeing appears to affect the very nature of how things look. So for some neurological impairment or death. The human brain consists of a spongy material • Diane Ackerman, poet and author, synaesthetes, the digit seven is not only greater than six and less than eight, floating in cerebrospinal fluid. If the amount of fluid is increased for whatever (An Alchemy of Mind: The Marvel Waterloo studies seek to improve but also appears in a bright shade of yellow.” The Waterloo database has reason - for example by an obstruction in the pathways - then pressure in the ventricular cavity increases, the ventricular walls expand and the brain is information on 300 synaesthetes from around the world. Researchers at the and Mystery of the Brain, 2004) life for people with brain injuries centre have published numerous papers in prestigious journals, such as compressed against the skull. The physics of hydrocephalus is very poorly Nature and the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, and their work has been understood, largely because it is extremely difficult to conduct experiments “We sit on the threshold of important new Dr. James Danckert, a faculty member in the Department of Psychology and holder of the Canada on living brains without harming the patient, and brain material is so fragile highlighted by Time, the Smithsonian and Discovery channel. For more advances in neuroscience that will yield Research Chair in Cognitive Neuroscience, researches how brain damaged and healthy people that standard engineering tests are not applicable. Progress is being made at details: www.arts.uwaterloo.ca/~src increased understanding of how the brain interact with the world around them. Assessments are made using multiple methods, such as UW by mathematically modelling the brain. The work involves Dr. James Drake, functions and of more effective treatments eye movements measured with an eyetracker. Reaching behaviour is measured using a system Chief Neurosurgeon, and his team at the University of Toronto Hydrocephalus that tracks variables including wrist velocity and grasp aperture. The multi-disciplinary research to heal brain disorders and diseases. How the brain behaves in health and disease increases understanding of the role of the parietal cortex in controlling reaching and eye Theoretical neuroscience advances Research Laboratory of the Hospital for Sick Children. may well be the most important question movements, and developing improved rehabilitation strategies for patients with specific brain made by Waterloo researchers in our lifetime.” injuries. The studies seek to reduce the economic burden on Canada’s health-care system, as well as lead to an improved quality of life for neurological/psychiatric patients and their The Computational Neuroscience Nervous system studies aid balance, gait • Dr. Richard D. Broadwell, University of Maryland School of Medicine families. Dr. Danckert’s other research interests include blindsight, the neural correlates of Research Group at Waterloo is Dr. James Frank, head of Waterloo’s School of Anatomy and with the Centre for consciousness, frontal lobe injury, motivation and the neural correlates of boredom. developing and applying a unified Applied Health Research, studies properties of neural strategies that control mathematical framework for modelling upright stance. The nervous system is constantly monitoring and adjusting “The brain is the last and grandest biological large-scale neurobiological systems - the complex networks of nerve cells posture when standing and walking. His research examines contributions of the frontier, the most complex thing we have yet discovered in our universe. It contains Computational modelling of brain development in the brain. The founder and director is Dr. Chris Eliasmith, co-author of various sensory systems (kinesthetic, vestibular and visual) and organization Neural Engineering, a book that provides new methods for understanding of the motor-output patterns (muscles activated and joint kinetics). He studies hundreds of billions of cells interlinked During early embryo development, a thin sheet of tissue called the neural plate must the complex and dynamic interactions in these networks. His group has built the influence of biomechanical and cognitive variables on the selection of a through trillions of connections. The brain undergo a dramatic, self-driven sequence of movements in order to form a normal neural sophisticated new models of animal navigation, swimming, working memory strategy to control upright stance. Dr. Frank has also evaluated changes in boggles the mind.” tube. Sometimes, for reasons not yet fully understood, the tube does not close along its entire and human reasoning, using realistic single-cell simulations. “We need balance control in the elderly and methods of reducing falls. This research, • Dr. James D. Watson, length. This results in one of a variety of neural tube defects that can include spina bifida or to know how our descriptions of single cells in the brain relate to our conducted with Dr. Lawrence Brawley, Dr. Aftab Patla, Dr. Michael Sharratt a physicist, who with Francis Crick anencephaly, which results in no brain being formed. The research conducted by Dr. Wayne descriptions of the mind and complex cognition,” he said. “The central and Dr. David Winter, led to the establishment of the Physical Assessment cracked the DNA secret of life in 1959. Brodland, Civil Engineering, is aimed at understanding the mechanical forces that drive goal of our group is to figure out how to relate these descriptions in detail.” Centre for the Elderly, a clinic that assesses gait and balance in seniors. The group is also doing research into Parkinson’s Disease. crucial morphogenetic movements and to identify the mechanical pathways associated with malformation defects. He uses advanced computational modelling and experimental techniques carried out with custom-designed micromanipulation and imaging instruments. Other research projects: • Dr. Barbara Bulman-Fleming’s RESEARCH EXPERTISE primary research in behavioural neuroscience includes lateralization of function and interhemispheric FACULTY MEMBER DEPARTMENT AREA OF EXPERTISE communication. There are large individual differences in how brains Frances Allard Kinesiology Human motor performance are organized. Studies have involved Kostadinka Bizheva Physics Biomedical optics, optical coherence tomography visual perceptual investigations of hemispheric differences in Kathleen Bloom Psychology Early language and literacy the conscious and unconscious William Bobier School of Optometry Refractive error; ocular focus and alignment processing of emotional words Wayne Brodland Civil Engineering Computational modelling of brain development and differences in the extent to which the two hemispheres can Barbara Bulman-Fleming Psychology Brain function; communication detect visual anomalies. Heather Carnahan Kinesiology Brain processing of sensory information Bruce Christensen Psychology Cognitive dysfunction in schizophrenia, depression • Dr. Bruce Christensen looks at James Danckert Psychology Cognitive neuroscience; behavioural neuroscience neurobiological underpinnings of cognitive dysfunction in Li Deng Electrical & Computer Engineering Speech analysis, synthesis and recognition schizophrenia and depression while Michael Dixon Psychology Synaesthesia; acquired brain damage Dr. Colin Ellard studies the ways in Chris Eliasmith Philosophy Philosophy of mind; computational neuroscience which humans and animals use vision to navigate through space. Colin Ellard Psychology Functional and neuronal organization of navigation Myra Fernandes Psychology Brain regions in memory, language • Dr. Myra Fernandes examines James Frank Kinesiology Neural strategies controlling upright stance; aging the processes and brain regions Richard Hughson Kinesiology Arterial blood pressure, brain blood flow involved in memory and language. Janice Husted Health Studies & Gerontology Gene-environment interactions in schizophrenia Her research emphasizes how these change with advancing Philip Merikle Psychology Synaesthesia; cognitive neuroscience age and differences in special Aftab Patla Kinesiology Visual control of locomotion; aging populations including those those Stephen Prentice Kinesiology Neural-biomechanical control of locomotion who are bilingual. Dr. Fernandes is co-director of the Waterloo Eric Roy Kinesiology Neurobehavioural assessment; neurodegenerative disorders Research in Aging Participants Michael Sharratt Kinesiology Plasticity of aging Pool, an initiative affiliated with Sivabal Sivaloganathan Applied Mathematics Brain biomechanics; biofluid dynamics UW’s Research Institute of Aging. Daniel Smilek Psychology Synaesthesia; human attention; perception Richard Staines Kinesiology Sensorimotor control; neurorehabilitation • Dr. Daniel Smilek uses distinct yet complementary approaches to Richard Steffy Psychology Psychopathology; neuropsychology understand how perception and Giuseppe Tenti Applied Mathematics Brain biomechanics; biofluid dynamics attention operate in daily situations. The first approach uses standard Paul Thagard Philosophy Neuroscience; theories of the mind laboratory tasks to uncover the Patricia Wainwright Health Studies & Gerontology Behavioural neuroscience; research methodology cognitive and neural mechanisms that underlie attention and perception. The second involves Research Works! aids children’s brains observing and describing how these functions operate as subjects engage Research Works! for child literacy, under the direction of UW’s Dr. Kathleen Bloom of the Department of Psychology, works in purposeful activities in their with the Read to Me! Nova Scotia Family Literacy Program to chart the impact of reading to infants in the first days, weeks natural environments. His research and months of life. Even before birth, an infant is able to hear and remember language. The first three years of life is the considers usual experiences optimal time for the development of brain cell connections that become the building blocks for early and successful reading. associated with attention and These neural connections develop as infants hear and see words. Read to Me! provides the parents of every newborn in Nova perception but also various unusual Scotia with books and resources to encourage their infants’ language and literacy development. experiences, such as those that accompany synaesthesia. • Dr. Patricia Wainwright investigates the effects of the interactions between genes and early environment, such as nutrition and drugs, on brain and behavioural University of Waterloo development. Studies address the role of dietary fatty acid in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada N2L 3G1 cognitive development and Office of Research • 519.888.4567, ext. 2526 long-term effects of fetal alcohol www.research.uwaterloo.ca exposure on episodic memory and immediate early-gene expression.