VISE affiliate receives prestigious NIH award for her research on Alzheimer’s Disease

Biomedical engineering doctoral student Sarah Goodale has been awarded a National Institute on Aging Transition to Postdoc Fellowship for her proposed work on investigating fatigue and sleep disturbance symptoms in Alzheimer’s Disease and their relationship with functional and structural properties of the brain and intellectual decline.

The National Institutes of Health NIA F99/K00 award supports graduate students while they finish their dissertation research on any topic. The support continues to a postdoctoral position conducting research on aging.

Sarah Goodale

Goodale’s research is titled “Characterizing vigilance in fMRI data and its relation to age-related cognitive impairment.” The major goals of her project are to understand how functional patterns in the brain related to vigilance regulation—changes from alert to drowsy to sleep—are impacted by the loss of brain matter in relevant structural pathways of the brain and how both properties influence progression of age-related cognitive decline.

“There is a huge need in the field to provide detection of early AD and understand the mechanisms behind cognitive changes to make preventative plans and measures for ‘at risk’ elders,” said Goodale, a graduate student affiliate in the Vanderbilt Institute for Surgery and Engineering.

Goodale works in the Neuroimaging and Brain Dynamics Lab with Assistant Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering Catie Chang. “Sarah is wonderfully talented and highly driven. Her Ph.D. focuses on advanced imaging and analysis techniques for investigating vigilance states in the human brain, and on clinical application of these techniques,” Chang said.

“This award offers amazing opportunities for Sarah to take these projects to the next level and to gain outstanding training in the fields of aging and Alzheimer’s disease,” Chang said. The NEURDY Lab is one of the core labs in VISE, an interdisciplinary, trans-institutional structure designed to facilitate interactions and exchanges between engineers and physicians.

“I have had incredible opportunities at Vanderbilt to work closely with the hospital and institutes like VISE, the Vanderbilt Memory & Alzheimer’s Center, and the Vanderbilt Institute of Imaging Science,” said Goodale, who has worked in VISE-related research since her time as a Vanderbilt undergraduate, more than six years ago.

VISE Director Benoit Dawant said it’s gratifying to see that VISE enables students like Sarah to thrive. “In addition to being a successful scientist, Sarah has been instrumental in growing VISE,” he said. “She has taken leadership roles in our student-led activities—Women of VISE and VISE Vision—that are key in forming and maintaining a sense of community among VISE affiliates.” Goodale has served as a member of the steering committee of WOV and chaired the steering committee of VISE Vision.

Goodale’s collaborators are physician and Surgical Director of Epilepsy Dario Englot, who also is an associate professor of neurological surgery, biomedical engineering and electrical and computer engineering; and VISE affiliate Kurt Schilling, research assistant professor of biomedical engineering. Co-sponsors on the award are Chang, John Gore, director of VUIIS; and Angela Jefferson, director of VMAC.

“This award would not have been possible without all of them,” Goodale said.

Goodale’s fellowship is supported by the National Institutes of Health-National Institute of Aging F99/K00 award (RFA-AG-23-016).