“My interest is to learn as much as we can about the neural basis of memory,”

Assistant Professor Noa Ofen at Wayne State, in collaboration with the Detroit Medical Center Children’s Hospital of Michigan and other scholars, is using a $1.9 million grant to conduct research on epileptic children undergoing surgery for treatment. The research focuses on the part of the brain that develops memory as well as other brain functions. 

Beginning in July, the five year grant, funded by the National Institute of Mental Health of the National Institutes of Health, set the goal of their study to “…identify the spatial and temporal dynamics of memory networks in the developing human brain,” according to a division of research press release.

Ofen said her research is focused on the memory networks in children’s brains, which has not been studied extensively before.

“My interest is to learn as much as we can about the neural basis of memory,” Ofen said.

To do this, she uses functional magnetic resonance imaging or fMRI scanning of the brain to locate which areas of the brain are being activated during the practice of memory. She said fMRI scanning detects changes in blood flow in the brain to track where the activity in the brain is happening.

While this method is valuable and has given her useful and extensive data, Ofen said fMRIs are unable to provide a vital and distinguishing aspect of studying the brain: the specific time of brain activity. She said fMRIs are unable to specifically relay at what time an area of the brain reacts and catalyzes a complementary alliance for the improvement of mapping memory in the brain between Ofen and the several scholars she works with.

The surgery’s goal is to remove the brain tissue in which the seizures are occurring. In order to verify the important brain tissue that is vital for speech, muscle function and other various functions of the brain is not damaged, doctors map out what is called the eloquent cortex of the brain, Ofen said.

Doctors do this by a method called electrocorticography or ECoG, which is done by placing electrodes directly on the brain. She said the electrodes placed on the brain give extremely beneficial data of electrical signals in the brain that fMRIs cannot. ECoG has been found to give much more accurate time parameters of processes in the brain compared to fMRIs.

Ofen said she hopes to use the ECoG method as a new insight to her study of memory because while it is superior to fMRIs in some ways, the data from both methods can compared and complementary to each other.   

It has been found in some cases, that post-surgery epileptic patients experience memory ability decline, according to Neurology, The Official Journal of the American Academy of Neurology. This decline can occur from the lack of knowledge about where memory-related brain areas are and can be affected during the removal of brain tissue during the surgery.

Ofen said she plans to use ECoG testing to try to continue her research of mapping out the memory cortex in brain similarly to eloquent mapping. By creating this memory map, it is hoped that she and other doctors may use it when they are deciding whether or not to perform surgery as a treatment for epileptic patients by taking in consideration the areas of the brain that are vital for memory.

Ofen said she also hopes that by expanding the knowledge on memory networks in the brain, post-surgery memory decline could be diminished.

For more information on the study of memory networks in children or other research projects at WSU, research.wayne.edu.

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