The 2022 Doctoral Anne Martin-Matthews Prize of Excellence in Research on Aging

Each year, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research-Institute of Aging (CIHR-IA) recognizes the highest ranked doctoral trainee in the field of aging from the CIHR open doctoral competition as the CIHR-IA Anne Martin-Matthews Prize of Excellence in Research on Aging recipient.


Dana Broberg, Western University

Dana a Ph.D. student in Medical Biophysics at Western University and also completed her undergraduate degree in Medical Biophysics at Western. Her research interests surround the use of novel imaging biomarkers for assessing neurodegenerative disease outcomes and her undergraduate research work focused on preclinical models of Alzheimer’s disease. Now, as a graduate student, her research focus has shifted to using diffusion MRI in multiple patient populations (Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, frontotemporal dementia, and cerebrovascular disease) to investigate the relationship between microstructural brain damage and cognitive outcomes, particularly spoken language.

Research Summary

White matter is a type of tissue found deep within the brain that connects various brain regions to enable communication between them. White matter is essential for cognitive function; damage to white matter, as seen in neurodegenerative diseases, can lead to cognitive impairment. The primary goal of my research is to compare the relative roles of visible white matter damage (using structural imaging) and subvisible white matter damage (using diffusion tensor imaging) as indicators of cognition in neurodegenerative diseases, particularly concerning spoken language. A secondary goal of my work is to validate a novel speech biomarker of cognitive impairment – multidomain spoken discourse analysis – which involves the meticulous (and soon-to-be automated) analysis of a patient's prompted conversational speech across multiple domains of language function (e.g., fluency, productivity, lexical diversity, syntax, and information content). Specifically, we hope to validate that this discourse analysis is sensitive to underlying white matter pathology with respect to both visible and potential early-stage, subvisible damage in multiple patient populations. The dataset for my research comes from the Ontario Neurodegenerative Disease Research Initiative (ONDRI) – a multisite, multidisciplinary study aimed at characterizing five diseases leading to dementia: Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, frontotemporal dementia, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and cerebrovascular disease. The main impacts of my research on the field of aging will be through (1) revealing whether early stages of white matter damage that is not visible upon structural imaging is detectable through diffusion imaging and is related to cognitive impairment in neurodegenerative diseases, and (2) helping to validate a novel speech biomarker of cognition that will be very easy for clinicians to implement and interpret, providing sensitive and early detection of cognitive impairment. This, in turn, will contribute to the development and implementation of more effective therapeutic strategies earlier in disease courses leading to dementia.

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