Statisticians step up to aid neurological health research

April 5, 2016, University of Alberta
Linglong Kong (mathematical and statistical sciences) is the co-lead of a new collaboration of 18 researchers across North America working together to improve the way neuroimaging data is analyzed.

Numbers can tell a story. In the hands of the right reader, it may prove to be a very important one—such as the likelihood of a particular patient developing a neurological disorder like dementia or responding positively to a new treatment for depression or ADHD.

Recent rapid innovations in technology have enabled the unprecedented collection of complex neuroimaging data to measure different perspectives on brain structures and functions. This information-rich data offers incredible potential to investigate neurological and psychiatric diseases, trace neural network changes of various disorders and understand the inner workings of the human brain—helping lay the foundation for a future with more precise, patient-specific medical treatment options.

Some of the more complicated problems involve integrating complementary sources of information—such as those that arise from studies that collect data using multiple neuroimaging modalities simultaneously, or studies that aim to combine brain imaging with genomics.

In fact, the data is so dense and so abundant that the challenge now is finding enough experts to make sense of it all.

Building a statistics super-team

Enter University of Alberta statistician Linglong Kong and his new collaboration of 18 researchers across North America. Co-led by Kong and the University of Victoria's Farouk Nathoo, the team comprises statisticians, computing scientists, neuroscientists and biomedical engineers, all working together to improve the way neuroimaging data is analyzed.

Statisticians step up to aid neurological health research

"The amount and the complexity of the data have increased the need for new methods and new statistical tools to analyze it," explains Kong, an assistant professor in the Department of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences.

Each member of the team brings a different skill set to the table; Kong is specifically focusing on the joint analysis of imaging and genetic data—for example, looking at possible connections between diseases and particular genes, or how a given area of the brain may be related to mental disorders such as Alzheimer's disease or ADHD.

Another collaborator, computing science professor Russ Greiner, is using computers to find patterns in a process known as statistical machine learning.

"It's a very exciting time to be a researcher. Even if we'd had these really good ideas 50 years ago, you couldn't do it with a hand calculator." says Greiner. "We've got the algorithms now, and we've got the computer power. I'm very excited by this machine learning approach and finding patient-specific treatments."

The emerging need for qualified experts to disseminate the overabundance of data is reflected in the recent swell of researchers in this area. Just a few years ago, Kong was a pioneer in statistical neuroimaging analysis—one of about a hundred working in that field of statistics. Now he estimates there are more than a thousand.

The project, Joint Analysis of Neuroimaging Data: High-Dimensional Problems, Spatio-Temporal Models and Computation, is funded through 2019 through $180,000 in Collaborative Research Team (CRT) Project funding from the Canadian Statistical Sciences Institute (CANSSI).

"This area is quite new," says Kong. "One of the goals of our project through this collaborative research is to promote statistical neuroimaging analysis in Canada. Not many people in Canada are doing this work, so by training graduate students and hosting workshops, we can train the next generation of researchers and bring them into this area to boost its development."

Explore further: Micro-map of hippocampus lends big hand to brain research

Related Stories

Micro-map of hippocampus lends big hand to brain research

December 3, 2015
A new detailed map of the hippocampal region of the brain, compiled by researchers at the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital-The Neuro at McGill University, is helping the scientific community accelerate research ...

Study identifies brain abnormalities in people with schizophrenia

July 7, 2015
Structural brain abnormalities in patients with schizophrenia, providing insight into how the condition may develop and respond to treatment, have been identified in an internationally collaborative study led by a Georgia ...

Researchers develop functional near-infrared spectroscopy neuroimaging device

March 14, 2016
NIRSIT, a functional near-infrared spectroscopy neuroimaging device, is set to change the landscape of neuroscience research and the medical sector by offering high spatial resolution as well as high temporal resolution in ...

Database translates schizophrenia research into one 'language'

November 10, 2015
SchizConnect, a new meta-database that translates all clinical schizophrenia studies into a single scientific "language," has been launched to help researchers long stymied by inconsistent findings between traditionally small ...

Recommended for you

Antidepressant restores youthful flexibility to aging inhibitory neurons in mice

August 20, 2018
A new study provides fresh evidence that the decline in the capacity of brain cells to change, called "plasticity," rather than a decline in total cell number may underlie some of the sensory and cognitive declines associated ...

Perinatal hypoxia associated with long-term cerebellar learning deficits and Purkinje cell misfiring

August 18, 2018
Oxygen deprivation associated with preterm birth leaves telltale signs on the brains of newborns in the form of alterations to cerebellar white matter at the cellular and the physiological levels. Now, an experimental model ...

Automated detection of focal epileptic seizures in a sentinel area of the human brain

August 17, 2018
Patients with focal epilepsy that does not respond to medications badly need alternative treatments.

Men and women show surprising differences in seeing motion

August 16, 2018
Researchers reporting in the journal Current Biology on August 16 have found an unexpected difference between men and women. On average, their studies show, men pick up on visual motion significantly faster than women do.

Brain response study upends thinking about why practice speeds up motor reaction times

August 16, 2018
Researchers in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Johns Hopkins Medicine report that a computerized study of 36 healthy adult volunteers asked to repeat the same movement over and over became significantly ...

Newly identified role for inhibition in cerebellar plasticity and behavior

August 16, 2018
Almost everyone is familiar with the unique mixture of surprise and confusion that occurs after making a mistake during an everyday movement. It's a fairly startling experience—stumbling on a step or accidentally missing ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.