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scientist focuses on fMRI to target stroke rehabilitation

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Thunder Bay, ON  ------  April 29, 2012  —, At a full meeting of its Board of Directors, the Thunder Bay Regional Jane Lawrence-DewarResearch Institute (TBRRI) welcomed new fMRI scientist Dr. Jane Lawrence-Dewar.

Neuroscientists like Jane Lawrence are gaining a deeper understanding of the brain through fMRI to the extent that each day approximately 10 new publications appear in medical and scientific journals around the world. Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) is nothing short of revolutionary and is influencing the practice of medicine at many hospitals, especially in neurology and neurosurgery.

Dr. Lawrence-Dewar gained expertise in fMRI of the brain and spinal cord at the University of Manitoba where she earned her PhD in Physiology. Her spinal fMRI experience led to a graduate training opportunity at the Institute of Neuroradiology at University Hospital Zürich. Dr. Lawrence-Dewar joined Stanford University as a Postdoctoral Fellow where she conducted brain fMRI studies related to cognitive modulation of acute and chronic pain.

In 2008, she returned home to Winnipeg and the University of Manitoba where she conducted behavioural and fMRI studies of visuomotor control and adaptation, and visual perception in healthy individuals and in cases of stroke injury and degenerative disease.

Jane’s research plan at TBRRI will use fMRI to understand how brain reorganization during stroke rehabilitation leads to motor recovery.  Dr. Lawrence-Dewar’s ultimate goal is to use this knowledge to develop better targeted rehabilitation methods and tools for patients who have suffered a stroke.

“Jane’s arrival reinforces what Thunder Bay has to offer to healthcare and research professionals: a state-of-the-art academic work environment, unique and progressive research programs, and a wonderful quality of life,” says Keith Jobbitt, Chair of the Board, TBRRI. “As chronic disease becomes more prevalent, it is important for TBRRI to explore new areas of research that will benefit patients across a wider spectrum.”

In addition to its use in targeting stroke patient rehabilitation, fMRI has the potential to bring a new level of discovery to many other areas such as mental health and addictions.  fMRI studies have demonstrated, for example,  that real physical changes take place in the brain during the treatment of depression. People are coming to appreciate that fMRI is for mental health like x-rays are for broken bones.

fMRI may also aid in the diagnosis and understanding of autism. Currently, austism is diagnosed by subjective reports but, by using fMRI, researchers believe that it is now possible to develop an objective imaging diagnostic for autism because they can actually measure signals in the brain to see the difference between autistic brains and typical brains in, for instance, the level of responsiveness in language areas.

There are instances in behavioural psychology where fMRI can help. For example, inadequate sleep is endemic among adolescents in developed countries – nearly half of adolescents receive less than 7 hours each school night when 9 hours is the clinical recommendation. Through fMRI researchers can learn more about the neural mechanisms that result in daytime inattention when adolescents experience restricted sleep.

Not only is Dr. Jane Lawrence-Dewar’s arrival good news for patient care, but also good news for our local and regional economy. TBRRI has recruited a new scientist who will focus on fMRI for stroke patients, expand TBRRI’s established Imaging Guided Interventions research team, catalyze brain and mental health research in Northwestern Ontario, and stimulate international and industrial partnerships in this hot field of research and commercialization.

To support Dr. Lawrence-Dewar’s work, state-of-the-art technology such as the next generation MRI and fMRI is critical. Once technology in this highly prolific field is in place, TBRRI, Lakehead University, and Northern Ontario School of Medicine researchers can use it to advance their work in areas such as brain injury, pain control, neurosurgical procedures, mental health and addictions, youth suicide, and more.

Michael Wood, Vice President Research at TBRRI and TBRHSC is enthusiastic about the continued attraction of bright minds to live and work in our community. “We are making steady progress and the addition of Dr. Lawrence Dewar to our team is a recruitment story that brings excellent potential for collaboration and new areas of research that will address healthcare issues that affect local people, particularly First Nation populations who have higher incidence of stroke. We’re committed to finding and using the best possible diagnostic tools and treatment options for all of our patients.”

Local neurologist Dr. Ayman Hassan, echoes this view, “Dr. Jane Lawrence-Dewar’s research will offer opportunity to learn more about improving patient outcomes with more targeted treatment options and therapies. It will be good to have a researcher like Jane as a member of the team.”

Dr. Lawrence-Dewar came to Thunder Bay because, she says, “the right ingredients are in place here for a successful research program that allows enormous opportunity for collaboration and partnership.”  Jane adds that “being part of Thunder Bay’s new yet increasingly robust medical and research community is exciting. With NOSM, Lakehead University, the Academic Health Sciences Centre, TBRRI, and a number of spinoff companies working to commercialize research, I feel that Thunder Bay has a lot to offer a young researcher like myself. From what I’ve seen so far, the work environment is excellent and dedication to patient need is very high.”

“We are so pleased to be welcoming another young scientist who excels in her field and will help us bring discovery to life by putting patients at the centre of research,” says Michael Power, TBRRI CEO. “Researchers like Dr. Lawrence-Dewar fuel the growth of our world-class Academic Health Sciences Centre and Research Institute.”

 
Jane Lawrence-Dewar, Scientist Biography

EDUCATION

PhD Physiology, University of Manitoba, 2007
BSc Biology, University of Winnipeg, 2002
APPOINTMENTS AND AFFILIATIONS
Adjunct Professor, Lakehead University, Thunder Bay, ON
(pending senate approval)
Postdoctoral Research Associate, Perception and Action
Laboratory, Department of Psychology, University of
Manitoba. 2008–2012
Postdoctoral Fellow, Stanford Systems Neuroscience and Pain
Lab, Department of Anesthesia, Stanford University, 2006-2007
Jane Lawrence-Dewar, PhD
Scientist

RESEARCH AREAS OF FOCUS
Stroke has devastating consequences for thousands of Canadians each year. Often, patients are left with
motor impairments that greatly affect their quality of life. To adjust, patients must adapt their motor
movements but the areas of the brain that need to perform these adaptations may also have been
affected. Dr. Lawrence-Dewar will use structural and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) of the
brain and spinal cord to help understand the disruption and reorganization of neural networks in the brain
following injury due to stroke and recovering motor control and adaptation during rehabilitation.

Projects that Dr. Lawrence-Dewar will guide include:
the role of mirror neurons visuomotor adaptation following stroke changes in the neural networks of stroke patients following rehabilitation The rapidly evolving field of neuroimaging is an exciting and challenging environment as new developments in equipment and techniques constantly improve the ways in which we can non-invasively observe the nervous system. Dr. Lawrence-Dewar’s research is motivated by the novel application of these techniques to further our understanding of neural injury, disease and possible recovery from theirdevastating effects.

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