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Friends of BrainHealth Awards Research Grants to New Scientists

Friends of BrainHealth

From left: Dr. Hsueh-Sheng Chiang, doctoral student Matthew Kmiecik, doctoral student Ariel Ketcherside, Dr. Jenny Meier, doctoral student Adam Teed and Dr. Kihwan Han.

Friends of BrainHealth has raised nearly $300,000 to advance brain research and to give young scientists opportunities to design and lead their own research studies under the tutelage of UT Dallas faculty.

Graduate students, doctoral candidates and postdoctoral fellows at the Center for BrainHealth compete for $25,000 research grants that are awarded at the annual Friends of BrainHealth Scientist Selection Luncheon. The luncheon was held Oct. 7 at Dallas Country Club and was sponsored by Katherine and Bob Penn, who are Visionary Friends in the donor group.

Lucy and Lindsay Billingsley, 2015 Friends of BrainHealth co-chairs, said they led the effort because they felt “the greatest contribution that we can each make to the world is to leverage innovative thinking.”

The funds raised during the year supported five awards to neuroscientists who are early in their research careers. Their work aims to advance the Center for BrainHealth’s mission to understand, protect and heal the brain.

Linda and Joel Robuck have supported Friends of BrainHealth as Visionary Friends for four years, and this year chose to further a study that investigates the biological causes of social impairments.

Under the guidance of faculty member Dr. Daniel Krawczyk, Adam Teed will investigate the possibility that oxytocin and vasopressin, two hormones that have been scientifically implicated in empathizing with others, might have a broad influence on social motivation. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), Teed aims to reveal the patterns of brain activity associated with social preferences and values, opening the doors for new treatments based on hormonal systems to increase quality of life for those who suffer from social dysfunctions.

“We truly believe Adam’s work to augment the complex nature and understanding of social impairments, in an effort to enhance the lives of the individuals and families affected, is deeply paramount to the future of brain science, this community and our nation as a whole,” Joel Robuck said. 

Katherine and Bob Penn awarded their second $25,000 grant to Dr. Jenny Meier whose research will investigate adding two elements to the Center for BrainHealth’s strategy-based cognitive training program called Strategic Memory Advanced Reasoning Training (SMART). Meier’s work, under the direction of the Center’s founder and chief director, Dr. Sandra Bond Chapman, will explore whether combining a pharmaceutical dopaminergic agent or transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) with SMART will enhance gains in innovative thinking and psychological health to a greater degree than traditional SMART used with veterans who have sustained brain injuries.

“Katherine and I are excited to back Dr. Jenny Meier in her ongoing effort to enhance both the critical thinking and the psychological health of our nation’s warriors,” Bob Penn said. “The Center for BrainHealth’s SMART program has done so much for this special group of heroes and heroines, and it’s wonderful to think that there may be ways to make it even more effective with pharmaceuticals or direct current stimulation.”

Friends of BrainHealth

The Friends of BrainHealth kicked off its 2016 campaign Nov. 1. Co-chairs are Jane Smith and Barbara Durham. Pam Borders and Kay Hammond will serve as membership chairs alongside Anne MacDonald and Nena Oshman, serving as co-chairs of Junior Friends, who are supporters under the age of 40.

Friends of BrainHealth offers seven membership levels: Junior Friend ($250) Companion ($500), Friend ($1,000), Special Friend ($2,500), Esteemed Friend ($5,000), Distinguished Friend ($10,000), and Visionary Friend ($25,000). To join, visit centerforbrainhealth.org/friends.

The Sapphire Foundation supported the work of Dr. Hsueh-Sheng Chiang, who was trained under BrainHealth’s medical science director Dr. John Hart Jr. and his proposal to attempt to identify a potential brain biomarker that could offer a more complete picture of who is most at risk for mild cognitive impairment, the preclinical stage of Alzheimer’s disease.

Kate Juett, chair of the Sapphire Foundation Inc. board of directors, said, “Sapphire feels most fortunate to be able to support Dr. Chiang in this significant research project. He is very accomplished in this area, and this research will hopefully foster more insight into this devastating disease that continues to affect so many of our families, friends and our society.”

Friends of BrainHealth members listened to research proposal presentations from three finalists at the annual luncheon and voted to award the final grant.

Matthew Kmiecik, a doctoral student of Krawczyk and first-time finalist, was selected as the member favorite for his study that will use EEG brain wave measurements to examine the changeability of automatic, pre-conscious processes that inform later, higher-level conscious processes in individuals who have suffered a traumatic brain injury.

After the luncheon, an anonymous donor awarded a grant to finalist Dr. Kihwan Han, a member of Krawczyk’s lab, for his research that seeks to create a method to objectively measure brain injury recovery using cortical thickness as a measure of cognitive health.

“It is always brain-inspiring to be in the presence of a magnanimous, philanthropic community that supports young scientists and their leading-edge approaches to scientific discovery,” Chapman said. “Because of Dallas visionary donors over the years, our doctoral students and research fellows have been able to conduct and publish groundbreaking studies in multiple sclerosis, traumatic brain injury, depression and Alzheimer’s disease. We are beholden to each BrainHealth Friend for their selfless generosity and dedication to our mission.”

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].

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