Neuroscience research at HMRI is focused on discovering underlying causes, diagnostic tests, and improved treatments for human brain disorders. Study participants form the core of this research, supplemented with pre-clinical models to test new treatments.
Brain disorders affect over half of the American population and not knowing the underlying cause or cure for any of them presents an enormous challenge. New technologies, however, have potential to make substantial progress, and we embrace these in our work. The expertise of HMRI’s neuroscientists combines detailed clinical assessments, brain physiology measures, analytical biochemistry, and the development of implantable devices to improve nervous system function. Neuroscientists and staff work closely with HMRI cardiovascular, stem cell, immunology, and imaging scientists, and also feed on stimulating interactions with other scientific groups within HMRI.
HMRI neuroscience groups include Molecular Neurology, Epilepsy, and Neural Engineering.
Neurosciences includes research in the following areas:
Aging and Alzheimer’s Disease Study
The purpose of this study is to investigate the causes of Alzheimer’s disease, enabling earlier diagnosis and effective treatment. Using the latest advances in technology, three research disciplines have teamed up to achieve these goals: The Magnetic Resonance, Molecular Neurology, and Stem Cells Laboratories.
We recruited 150 people with classifications of Alzheimer’s disease, mild cognitive impairment, or without any cognitive impairment. We have found compelling evidence of altered lipids in brain-derived membranes in the spinal fluid from subjects with early disease, even before symptoms have started. We are now studying these and new participants to investigate how the chemistry and clinical condition change with time.
Participants are tested at HMRI over 1 to 2 months, broken up into several visits. Visits take 2 to 4 hours and include extensive clinical assessments, cognitive testing, body fluid collections for stem cell and biomarker research, and brain imaging using magnetic resonance. Assessments are repeated every 1 to 3 years, so that we can track changes that occur with time. Clinically relevant feedback from research is available for primary care physicians, and research progress feedback is provided to study participants at frequent HMRI presentations.
If you’re interested in participating, please see our brochure: “Aging and Alzheimer’s Study”
We aim to better understand migraine, which disables about 30 million Americans. There are a number of variations in the pattern of migraine, but typical symptoms of severe headaches often with light, sound, and smell sensitivities, disturbed balance, usually with nausea or vomiting, are usually episodic. 3 million Americans suffer from chronic daily headache. Those that suffer migraine have a much higher frequency of many other related conditions: anxiety, depression, tremor, epilepsy, asthma, irritable bowel syndrome, painful bladder syndrome, fibromyalgia, and others. Our goal is to discover why so many disturbances of brain/nerve functions occur so commonly in those with migraine.
We have found that altered sodium regulation occurs within the nervous system and may cause migraine. We have also been studying many other changes in spinal fluid proteins and lipids during migraine. We continue to recruit study participants with migraine and controls for this HMRI research. We also collaborate with Dr. Robert P. Cowen of Stanford University School of Medicine in a study that is focused on New Daily Persistent Headache (NDPH).
If you’re interested in participating, please see our brochure: “Migraine”
Mild Traumatic Brain Injury (Concussion) Project
Mild traumatic brain injuries, commonly called concussion, are the overwhelming majority of brain injuries suffered in recent American military engagements. Around 80% of military concussions are suffered in similar situations to those of civilian injuries, namely sports, road traffic, or domestic accidents. Severe head injury requires hospitalization, but concussion frequently goes undetected. The injury effect is not so obvious to the victim and is hard for observers, including physicians, to diagnose.
The most needed tools for managing patients with concussion include objective tests for diagnosis and prediction of recovery. Emergency room physicians of Huntington Memorial Hospital refer patients that they discharge with concussion, or those with minor non-head trauma as controls. These volunteers are studied using a combination of clinical, psychological, physiological, imaging, and blood measures. Research is repeated over the month after injury to discover tests that both diagnose acute concussion and that predict recovery. View Dr. Michael Harrington’s bio.
Epilepsy is a chronic disorder of the brain that affects approximately 60 million people worldwide. Epileptogenesis, or the development of epilepsy, often originates after an event such as head trauma or fever-induced seizures, followed by a long seizure-free period before spontaneous recurrent seizures develop (ictogenesis). The underlying mechanisms that lead from inciting events to chronic and recurrent seizures are not fully understood. Temporal-lobe epilepsy (TLE) is the most common and drug-resistant type. Major candidate mechanisms for TLE are glutamate excitotoxicity and an imbalance between excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmission. The objective of Dr. Kanamori’s program is to contribute to a better understanding of the underlying mechanisms that link epileptogenesis to ictogenesis in an animal model that most closely resembles human TLE. For more information about recent findings, view Dr. Keiko Kanamori’s bio.
Established in 1970, the program is multi-disciplinary (name the disciplines) with the overall goal of design, development and evaluation of implantable devices for functional electrical stimulation that can replace or augment impaired function of the nervous system.
The Huntington Helix was developed by the NEP with funding from the Neural Prosthesis Program of the National Institutes of Health. It was licensed to Cyberonics, Inc. and has been implanted onto the Vagus nerve of more than 75,000 persons with epilepsy. Vagus nerve therapy is approved in the U.S. for reducing the frequency of epileptic seizures in adults and adolescents with” partial onset seizures” which are resistant to antiepileptic medications.
With funding from the National Institutes of Health, we are developing devices that can activate the nerve cells in a person’s brain or spinal cord in order to alleviate symptoms of neurological disorders. A major effort of the NEP is the development and testing of “penetrating “ microelectrodes which are implanted into a patient’s brain or spinal cord where they can activate nerve cells in a precise and well-controlled manner, and do so safely and effectively for many years. A major portion of this effort is directed towards developing a device that can restore hearing to persons with deafness who cannot benefit from hearing aids or cochlear implants. In other projects, we are collaborating with the Illinois Institute of Technology, and with Pixium Vision SA, to develop visual prostheses that may restore some vision to persons with blindness.
We are working with the Huntington Memorial Hospital’s Sleep Center to develop a new method of treating obstructive sleep apnea. Our device uses biofeedback to cause the user to develop a new reflex that keeps their tongue forward in their mouth while they are asleep so that it will not obstruct their airway.