Chang, Englot receive $3 million NIH grant for epilepsy imaging work

Catie Chang, left, and Dario Englot, right, awarded $3 million for basic research for epilepsy imaging studies. (Joe Howell/Vanderbilt University)

A team led by an engineering professor who specializes in techniques to analyze functional neuroimaging data and a neurosurgeon-scientist has received a $3 million NIH grant for epilepsy research.

This is the third major NIH R01 basic research grant Vanderbilt School of Engineering and Vanderbilt University Medical Center teams have received in less than a year to advance understanding of the disorder. The total exceeds $8 million.

Catie Chang, assistant professor of computer science, electrical engineering, computer engineering and biomedical engineering, and Dario Englot, VUMC surgical director of epilepsy and assistant professor of neurological surgery, electrical engineering, radiology and radiological sciences and biomedical engineering, will study disturbances in brain networks related to attention lapses and cognitive deficits in patients with temporal lobe epilepsy.

Using a novel approach that integrates multi-modal imaging with in-depth neurocognitive assessments, the project aims to identify specific areas of brain connectivity where vigilance, or sustained attention, is disturbed and may contribute to neurocognitive decline.

The team believes consciousness-impairing seizures in TLE may cause functional connectivity disturbances between subcortical vigilance centers and the cortex. The project will involve neuroimaging studies that relate vigilance to brain connectivity, cognition to vigilance, and connectivity to cognition. They hope understanding these brain network problems may lead to new surgical or behavioral interventions to improve the quality of life for epilepsy patients.

“By integrating these neuroimaging and cognitive measurements, we will be able to deeply investigate the links between them and gain a more complete understanding of human brain networks involved in vigilance,” Chang said.

Her expertise is in multi-modal imaging of dynamic brain states; time-resolved analysis of functional networks; neural and physiological basis of fMRI signals/networks; and methods for improving the quality of fMRI data. The research will include using simultaneous fMRI-EEG and compare measures of healthy control patients with those of patients who have TLE.

“We hope to fill a critical gap in our understanding of the brain network mechanisms underlying neurocognitive problems in TLE,” Englot said. “The results will also inform clinical treatment decisions in TLE, and may help us find new targets for brain stimulation therapies.”

Chang and Englot are affiliates with the Vanderbilt Institute for Surgery and Engineering and the Vanderbilt University Institute of Imaging Science.

About 1 percent of the population has temporal lobe epilepsy, the most common type of epilepsy. A devastating neurological disorder, TLE causes patients to have frequent consciousness-impairing seizures, broad neurocognitive deficits, and a diminished quality of life. These seizures originate in the hippocampus or amygdala, yet TLE patients show cognitive deficits not associated with temporal lobe function, including declines in executive function, cognitive processing speed, and attention.

Separately, a team led by Victoria Morgan, associate professor of biomedical engineering and radiology and radiological sciences, has received $5 million in NIH grants to develop early biomarkers of treatment outcomes for patients with temporal lobe epilepsy based on their individual brain networks. The team includes Englot and Bennett Landman, associate professor of electrical engineering.