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USC Mark and Mary Stevens Neuroimaging and Informatics Institute Newsletter / Spring 2021


Investigating the Environment’s Role in Brain Health

Dr. Lauren Salminen, an instructor of research neurology at the INI, is leading a new effort to understand how air pollution, noise, green space, and other environmental factors impact brain health. The ENIGMA-Environment Working Group, part of the Enhancing Neuro Imaging Genetics through Meta-Analysis (ENIGMA) consortium, is working to pool brain scans from more than 19,000 people and study changes to brain structure, behavior, and risk for various developmental, neurodegenerative, and psychiatric problems.

Learn more about the new initiative.

International Big Data Study of Brain Changes in HIV

A new study co-led by INI Associate Professor Dr. Neda Jahanshad and postdoctoral scholar Dr. Talia Nir pooled MRI data from 1,203 HIV-positive individuals across Africa, Asia, Australia, North America, and Europe. The researchers identified several patterns of brain injury, including that participants with lower white blood cell counts also had less brain volume in the hippocampus and thalamus. The team’s findings were published in JAMA Network Open in January.

Read more about the study and its implications.

Gene Expression in the Human Subiculum

An INI team that included Dr. Michael Bienkowski and Dr. Farshid Sepehrband mapped patterns of gene expression in the subiculum, part of the hippocampus and one of the primary brain structures affected by Alzheimer’s disease. The paper, published in the Nature journal Scientific Reports, includes videos embedded using the Schol-AR augmented reality app (scan the QR code in Figure 1 of the paper to see more).

Read the paper and explore the data in augmented reality.

Predicting Brain Age Using Deep Learning

The INI’s Dr. Dominique Duncan, an assistant professor of neurology, and Dr. Marianna La Rocca, a postdoctoral scholar, were part of a team that published a new deep learning model for predicting brain age using MRI scans. Such models can help researchers better understand aging patterns and identify individuals who may be at risk for neurodegenerative diseases. The group’s findings were published in the journal NeuroImage in January.

Read the paper and explore the data in augmented reality.

A Biomarker of Vascular Cognitive Impairment and Dementia

An INI team that included Dr. Kay Jann, Dr. Danny JJ Wang, Dr. Lirong Yan, and several postdoctoral researchers studied elderly Latinx subjects at risk for cerebral small vessel disease, which can lead to vascular cognitive impairment and dementia (VCID). They tested whether MRI measures of cerebral blood flow can be used as a biomarker of VCID, with promising results. The team published their findings in Frontiers in Neuroscience.

Learn more about the study.


Computational Neuroimaging Grant from the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative

Dr. Ryan Cabeen, a postdoctoral researcher at the INI, received an imaging technology grant from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI), a philanthropy led by Dr. Priscilla Chan and her husband, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. The grant provides up to five years of funding for Dr. Cabeen to develop computational tools for processing, managing, analyzing, and visualizing neuroimaging data.

Read more about the award.

Ultra-High Field Imaging of Epilepsy Patients

A new grant from the Baxter Foundation, which supports early-career investigators at USC, is funding research by Dr. Vishal Patel, an assistant professor of radiology at the INI, on epilepsy. Dr. Patel is using the Institute’s ultra-high field 7 Telsa MRI scanner to study seizures that are hard to pinpoint with lower-resolution imaging.

Learn more about his reasearch.


Scientific Visualization: Stroke Pathology in the Brain

A new video produced by INI’s medical animator, Jim Stanis, illustrates several types of stroke pathology and how each affects the brain. Watch to learn about the difference between thrombotic strokes, embolic strokes, thromboembolic strokes, and brain hemorrhages.

COVID-ARC Lightning Talks

Dr. Dominique Duncan, an assistant professor of neurology who leads the COVID-19 Data Archive (COVID-ARC) project, hosted a webinar in January for K-12 students and teachers across 60 Los Angeles-area high schools. Students from Dr. Duncan’s lab gave presentations and answered questions about conducting neuroscience research.

View the full webinar to learn more.

2021 SCymposium Awards

Two student researchers from Dr. Dominique Duncan’s lab, Sweta Bhagavatula and Aubrey Martinez, received honorable mentions in the Life Science I category at the 23rd annual SCymposium event for USC undergraduate students. Sweta and Aubrey helped create a fully automated pipeline for estimating cortical thickness in rodents with traumatic brain injury.


Welcome New Faculty

Dr. Leon Aksman joined the INI last fall as an assistant professor of research neurology. After earning his doctorate in neuroimaging from Kings College London, Dr. Aksman worked on Alzheimer’s disease progression models at University College London. His research combines statistics and machine learning with multimodal neuroimaging, biofluid, and cognitive measures.

Meet Our Featured Postdocs

Dr. Maz M. Khansari

Dr. Maz M. Khansari received his doctorate in Bioengineering from University of Illinois at Chicago. His research focuses on development of novel image processing and deep learning algorithms for vision science, with the goal to help with diagnosis and gaining better understanding of ophthalmic and systemic diseases such as diabetic retinopathy and Alzheimer’s disease. He is also working on a project for unsupervised anomaly detection in retinal optical coherence tomography throughout the progression of diabetic complications in the eye.

Dr. Katherine Lawrence

Dr. Katherine Lawrence received her doctorate in neuroscience from the University of California, Los Angeles. Her research uses diffusion imaging and functional MRI techniques to characterize structural and functional brain connectivity in developmental populations, including how such brain connectivity may be altered in neurodevelopmental conditions such as autism and ADHD. She is also working on a project funded by a postdoctoral NRSA fellowship from the National Institute of Mental Health that aims to use neuroimaging to predict mental health outcomes in adolescents.

Dr. Yaqiong Chai

Dr. Yaqiong Chai received her doctorate in biomedical imaging from USC after completing her B.S. in automation and electrical engineering and her M.S. in image informatics. Her research focuses on multimodal imaging of neurological disease, such as temporal lobe epilepsy, sleep apnea, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s Disease. She applies deep learning methods to image synthesis, disease or patients’ outcome classification, and brain age prediction.

Check back next time to meet three more of our postdocs.

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