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Release: Sept. 6, 2001

UI researchers get $7.1 million grant to study brain structures

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- University of Iowa researchers have been awarded a five-year, $7.1 million grant renewal from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) to fund their ongoing research aimed at understanding the relationship between complex behavior and brain systems and structures in humans. The NINDS funding, currently in its 19th year, along with other National Institutes of Health grants, will support UI research well into the project's third decade.

"The core of our research on language, emotion, memory, decision-making and consciousness has been supported by this grant," said Antonio R. Damasio, M.D., the Maurice Van Allen Professor of Neurology and head of the department. "This funding has allowed us to understand so much of what we know about brain function in neurological patients."

Damasio and Hanna Damasio, M.D., UI Foundation Distinguished Professor of Neurology and director of the neuroimaging laboratory, are the program directors of this grant. Other UI researchers involved with this large grant include Daniel T. Tranel, Ph.D., UI professor of neurology; Gary W. Van Hoesen, Ph.D., UI professor of anatomy and cell biology and neurology; Thomas J. Grabowski, M.D., UI associate professor of neurology; and Steven W. Anderson, Ph.D., Ralph Adolphs, Ph.D., Antoine Bechara, Ph.D., and Josef Parvizi, M.D., who are all UI assistant professors of neurology.

"The value of this research is that it allows us to understand how the brain performs such remarkable functions as language, memory, emotion and the capacity to make decisions," Damasio said. "And at the same time we can apply the new knowledge that we acquire to the diagnosis and treatment of neurological disease. Our research is really two-pronged: On the one hand, we are learning more about ourselves, and on the other hand, we are using that knowledge to help neurological diagnosis."

The UI research studies generally fall into two main categories. The first approach is known as the "lesion method." UI researcher use high power magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to identify and characterize brain damage. The researchers then perform lesion analysis and relate the specific brain structure that is damaged to the neurological defect seen in the patient.

Many of the sophisticated techniques used to obtain useful information from the MRI scans were pioneered at the UI and allow researchers to correlate the location of the lesion in the brain with the cognitive performance of the patient.

The second experimental approach uses these lesion studies as a springboard to launch investigations aimed at viewing the activity of specific brain structures as the brain performs particular tasks.

These experiments use techniques known as functional neuroimaging to view the brain at work. The UI researchers use functional MRI (fMRI) and positron emission tomography (PET) to study the performance of patients with neurological deficits and the performance of normal subjects without neurological disease. The research goal is to pinpoint the neurological systems involved in particular cognitive tasks.

The UI is considered to be one of the world's best research centers for studying how the brain performs complex cognitive tasks. One unique resource, which has helped keep the UI at the forefront of this research field, is the Cognitive Neuroscience Patient Registry. This detailed catalogue of brain lesions and their corresponding cognitive implications was established 18 years ago at the UI. The NINDS funding will help maintain and expand this registry.

University of Iowa Health Care describes the partnership between the UI College of Medicine and the UI Hospitals and Clinics and the patient care, medical education and research programs and services they provide. Visit UI Health Care online at