Congratulations to Laura Cabral

The lab would like to congratulate Laura Cabral, who won a CIHR Canada Graduate Scholarship to support her Masters degree. This is one of just 15 awarded by the Canadian Institute of Health Research at Western, and an excellent achievement in a rigorous competition. Laura will  study the development of the visual system during the first year of postnatal life. She will initially study typically developing infants, and later infants with perinatal brain injury, with the goal of detecting visual impairments earlier, so that timely interventions can be made.

We’d also like to thank CIHR for this award.

Vacancy: Research Nurse – Paediatric, Neonatal/Perinatal

We seek a Research Nurse to attend MRI scanning sessions of infants under one year old. Your main roles will be: assisting with the care of the infant during the scan; communicating with parents regarding the scanning process; and answering/referring questions parents may have.

The scanning sessions will support a project to develop assessments of the brain using neuroimaging. At present, it is difficult to predict what the consequences of early brain abnormalities will be, and many infants with brain injury develop without any symptoms, while others have cognitive or behavioural challenges later in life. Our project aims to develop new assessments of brain functioning and development using neuroimaging with fMRI.

Some infants will be NICU graduates with a history of brain injury, and others will be matched controls recruited from the maternity ward. During the scanning sessions you will assist in identifying situations where the infant needs attention, and in the event of an unexpected emergency, when medical assistance should be called.

It is our goal to have approximately two three hour slots per week at a regular time, with some or all in the evening or at the weekend. However, some flexibility (to allow for MRI scanner and patient availability) would be helpful, and this schedule may need to be adjusted depending on recruitment success.

The postholder will join a multidisciplinary team of scientists at Western’s Brain and Mind Institute, and physicians and staff at London Health Sciences Centre. Scanning will take place at the state-of-the-art facilities at the Centre for Functional and Metabolic Mapping at the Robarts Research Institute.

Rate of Pay: $40/hour

Hours of Work: Estimated at 6 hours/week

Start date: Jan 2014

QUALIFICATIONS:

  • Current Certificate of Registration with the College of Nurses of Ontario
  • Current Basic Life Support for Healthcare Providers course: BLS-HCP(C)
  • ENC (C), ACLS, TNCC, and PALS certification preferred
  • Monitoring experience (i.e. saturation, ECG)
  • Well-developed patient assessment, planning, intervention and evaluation skills
  • Thorough understanding and commitment to Patient and Family Centred Care principles and ability to use in practice
  • Ability to understand the feelings, concerns and needs of other people, demonstrate care and interest towards them and establish and maintain productive relationships
  • Ability to demonstrate an optimistic disposition toward new experiences and change in general
  • Demonstrated knowledge of and commitment to patient and staff safety
  • Demonstrated ability to attend work on a regular basis
  • Basic understanding of MRI safety
  • Research experience preferred

To apply, please send a cover letter and CV to Rhodri Cusack at vacancies@cusacklab.org
We will begin considering applications on Dec 3.

6 Months of Baby Science!

It has been a busy 6 months for the Cusack Lab, and we are making fantastic progress on our neonatal neuroscience projects.  So far, we have recruited and recorded from 142 infants under one year of age.  Here’s a breakdown of the numbers:

EEG MRI Ultrasound Behavioural
Ethics Approval Apr 2013 Apr 2013 Apr 2013 Nov 2012
Patients / Controls Pat Con Pat Con Pat Con Con
N = 17 18 12 2 24 14 55

Working with such young infants is quite a challenge (they’re not always the most cooperative subjects!), but we have come up with some strategies to make sure our participants are comfortable and happy.  It appears that most babies are quite content to sleep throughout the MRI scans once they are bundled up.

Happy and/or sleeping babies don’t move so much during MR scanning — which really improves the data quality. The functional MRI data look promising so far, and preliminary analyses (using AA and GroupICA) have identified some resting-state networks from these first few data sets (N=12). For example:

Testing continues, and we will have more to share as the data rolls in, and we move towards our goal of improving clinical assessments of brain function in newborns. Thank you to all the families who have participated in our research, and to our clinical collaborators (particularly Dr David Lee and Richa Mehta) for making this happen.

 

Lab in the news

In the last few months, the lab has been involved in a number of projects that have been reported in the media. We’d like to thank our collaborators Lorina Naci, Mark Daley and Adrian Owen for their contributions. A summary is below, or check out our “Lab in the news” page under Media.

September 2013: Lab’s real-time fMRI project with Mark Daley part of an article in Biotechnology Focus.

August 2013: paper by collaborator Lorina Naci generates widespread attention: “Researchers ‘talk’ with man trapped in vegetative state for 12 years.” The New ScientistNBC NewsThe Globe and MailLos Angeles TimesRadio Canada InternationalFox NewsCorriere della SeraThe Daily MailCTV NewsThe Huffington PostReutersThe Agenda with Steve ParkinThe Chicago TribuneThe Toronto SunGlobal NewsThe London Free PressNewswiseMedpage Today.

June 2013:  Team comprising the lab and collaborators wins HBM Hackathon Challenge #1. See press releaseinteractive viewerFAQ, or slash-dot.

Farewell to Jeff

On August 1 the lab went for dinner at the Church Key to wish farewell to Jeff Crukley, who is taking up a position as an audiologist in Kitchener. We’re grateful to him for helping us work out the best way to deliver sounds to newborns in the MRI scanner, introducing us to a fantastic 5-s middle ear assessment tool (the tympanometer), and arranging a myriad of other things.

In the top photo, Jeff is in the second seat back on the left, next to his wife Stella in front. Then around the table clockwise is the lab’s remaining fantastic team: Laura Cabral (Summer Intern and future Master’s student); Lauren Forrest (Summer Intern); Jacob Matthews (Summer Intern and future Master’s student); Bobby Stojanoski (Postdoc) and his wife Mary; Leire Zubiaurre Elorza (Postdoc); Tara and Conor Wild (Postdoc); Annika Linke (Postdoc); Michelle Tran (Summer Intern); Hester Duffy (Postdoc); Rhodri Cusack & media-star wife Lorina Naci; and Charlotte Herzmann (Postdoc).

This is the reverse angle, with Tara and Conor on the left at the front.

No sound consensus – Hackathon HBM 2013

Our entry for the HBM Hackathon has made the finals. You can read more about our project below, or just browse our results in the interactive viewer.

There is little consensus on the parcellation of human auditory cortex, especially in regards to auditory-related or auditory association areas beyond primary auditory cortex; in contrast, there is substantial agreement on the functional parcellation of visual cortex. This might be because: fewer scientists study the auditory system and the key analyses are still lacking; auditory regions are smaller and/or too variable across individuals; or because the auditory system is fundamentally less modular, perhaps because the statistics of environmental sounds are such that processing is best implemented in a distributed monolithic system. Our hackathon project had two overarching goals:  (1) to quantify modularity in auditory and visual systems; and (2) if appropriate, to derive a parcellation of the auditory system. As any single type of data is subject to biases, three types were brought together by an international and multidisciplinary team of scientists using multiple packages and programming languages. We first defined broad auditory and visual seed regions of interest using an open-source meta-analytic approach (i.e., http://neurosynth.org/) combined with anatomical masking. We then characterized the signature of connectivity of each voxel in these seed regions using diffusion and resting state data provided by the Human Connectome Project. Graph theory analyses were then applied to derive clusters of voxels (i.e., modules) that exhibited similar patterns of anatomical and functional connectivity, and to compare the modularity of auditory and visual cortices.   Modularity of auditory cortex was found to be similar to that of visual cortex, suggesting that across individuals this system appears to have multiple distinct sub-regions. Parcellations in all seed regions showed consistency across individuals and modalities, and allowed us to derive group and grand (i.e., multi-modal) parcellations. Finally, using the Allen Brain Atlas we found that gene expression was more similar within our parcellations for visual — but not auditory —  cortex. In summary, auditory cortex was found to be modular and to show consistency across individuals, so that reliable group parcellations were be derived. Finally, we developed a web tool that can be used to browse our parcellations and the connectivity of each module. We estimate that our entry has used around 1 year’s worth of processing time of the fastest processing cores in the Amazon cloud, and that much of team was sleep deprived for the last month.

Welcome to London

The lab would like to welcome a postdoctoral fellow, Dr. Charlotte Herzmann, who has come to us from the University of Bremen, Germany. Charlotte will be using neuroimaging to study infant development, and how this becomes disrupted following perinatal brain injury.

As a welcome to Charlotte, here are some of our favourite things around the city…

Food

  • On the Move Organics run a weekly box scheme that delivers delicious veg to central London (by bicycle to many areas)
  • London Farmers’ Market on a Saturday morning is a great place to pick up delicious fruit, veg, meat, spices, pies, juice, and coffee, with lots of organic produce.
  • For cheap fresh fruit and veg (or a live goose) go to the Trails End Farmers’ Market
  • Pick up some excellent bread from the Artisan Bakery
  • Go to the fantastic United Supermarket for fish, shellfish, cephlapods or asian veg and goods.
Cafes
  • Covent Garden Market is a great place for lunch: try the New Delhi Deli (excellent curry); the Tea Haus or the greek place to the left of the main doors.
  • Organic Works make gluten-free breads and cakes and deliver all over Eastern Canada. They serve excellent coffee and have a nice space with wifi.
  • The Root Cellar is a charming cafe on the up-and-coming east end of Dundas, just opposite fantastic Wisdom tea shop

Leisure

 

Comment on “Auditory perception at the root of language learning.”

The following was submitted as a letter to a journal, but was rejected without review. It is a comment on “Mueller, J. L., Friederici, A. D., & Mannel, C. (2012). Auditory perception at the root of language learning. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2012, 1–6. doi:10.1073/pnas.1204319109“. To comment, please click on “Leave a reply” at the bottom of the post.

Circularity at the root of learning

Neuroimaging can be used to probe cognitive processes like language development at an age when behavioral responses are not yet available. The report by Mueller et al. [1] described the use of electroencephalography (EEG) to investigate individual differences in grammatical rule learning in 3-month old infants.

In their auditory oddball paradigm, triplets of syllables were presented in a sequence. Approximately 10% of triplets contained a final syllable that deviated in pitch and ~10% of triplets deviated in the rule with which the syllables were chosen. Mismatch Responses (MMRs) to pitch deviants have been shown in young infants before [2]. Early in development (2-3 months), deviants evoke a slowly changing positive MMR and this typically matures by four months to a more rapid, negative MMR, as seen in adults.

The report presents data from 65 infants of age three months. It concludes that pitch deviants elicit an immature positive MMR in 49% of the infants and a negative MMR in the remainder; and that rule deviants elicit a response only in infants with a mature negative pitch MMR. Together, these are taken to indicate that abstract rule learning depends on basic auditory processing abilities. However, the statistics reported do not justify these conclusions.

As the infants were split into groups according to the sign of their pitch MMR, it is circular to then test for a non-zero pitch MMR within each of these groups. The tests have a high risk of Type 2 error, and significant results would be obtained under the null hypothesis that the data comprised noise alone [3]. This makes it difficult to interpret the blue waveforms and bars in Fig 2 A,B,C&D, the PxMMR interaction, or the Neg MMR measures in Table 1. Thus, evidence was not provided for the presence of a pitch MMR, although anecdotally, the shapes of the positive and negative curves are similar to those observed previously [2]. The interactions involving pitch MMR and region will also be biased in the likely circumstance that noise level varies by region. To assess the statistical significance of the pitch MMR (or higher-level interactions), cross validation could be performed by splitting each participant’s data (e.g., assign groups using half of the data, run statistics on the other half)

Statistics were also not presented to show that the positive and negative pitch-MMR groups had a different MMR response to rule deviants. The rule MMR reached significance in the negative group and not in the positive group, but tests were not reported to establish these differed significantly (i.e., Boys: MMRxR; Girls: MMRxR) [4]. The higher-level interaction reported (MMRxRxSex) might be driven by the opposite signs of the boys and girls with negative MMR. Further, the positive rule MMR appears to have different morphology from that previously reported [2].

In summary, the conclusions stated are not justified given the reported statistics. Rigorous statistical practices are critical for guiding the interpretation of neuroimaging data, particularly as prominent researchers have suggested only half of all studies will replicate [5].

References
[1] Mueller, J. L., Friederici, a. D., & Mannel, C. (2012). Auditory perception at the root of language learning. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2012, 1–6. doi:10.1073/pnas.1204319109
[2] He, C., Hotson, L., & Trainor, L. J. (2007). Mismatch responses to pitch changes in early infancy. Journal of cognitive neuroscience, 19(5), 878–92. doi:10.1162/jocn.2007.19.5.878
[3] Kriegeskorte, N., Simmons, W. K., Bellgowan, P. S. F., & Baker, C. I. (2009). Circular analysis in systems neuroscience: the dangers of double dipping. Nature Neuroscience, 12(5), 535–540.
[4] Nieuwenhuis, S., Forstmann, B. U., & Wagenmakers, E.-J. (2011). Erroneous analyses of interactions in neuroscience: a problem of significance. Nature Neuroscience, 14(9), 1105–1107. doi:10.1038/nn.2886
[5] http://www.danielbor.com/dilemma-weak-neuroimaging/

Thanks to Bobby Stojanoski, Michelle C. Tran, Annika C. Linke & Conor J. Wild for their help in drafting this comment.