Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada

Improving Brain Health: StFX psychology professor awarded nearly $175,000 in CFI JELF and Research Nova Scotia funding  

September 21st, 2022
Dr. Erin Mazerolle

A StFX psychology professor working to improve brain health has received almost $175,000 in research funding. 

Dr. Erin Mazerolle is the successful recipient of a John R. Evans Leaders Fund (JELF) award, co-funded by the Government of Canada, through the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) and through Research Nova Scotia. The Canadian government, through the CFI, announced on September 21 an investment of $64 million in research infrastructure to support 251 projects at 40 universities across Canada. 

Dr. Mazerolle’s funds were used to purchase a Functional Near Infrared Spectroscopy (fNIRS) system. Like an EEG, fNIRS measures brain activity from sensors on the scalp, but unlike an EEG, which measures electrical activity, fNIRS measures changes in blood flow and blood oxygen that are associated with brain activity. The new equipment also includes a respiratory gas analyzer, and related software, hardware, and gas delivery system for her project, ‘Neurovascular Research Infrastructure for Improving Brain Health.’

“I’m very excited to bring neurovascular imaging to StFX. This new equipment will be integrated into StFX’s existing Applied NeuroCognitive Research Lab, established by Drs. Lindsay Berrigan and Melanie Lam. The resulting combination of EEG, fNIRS, and respiratory gas delivery/analysis will be a unique-in-Canada setup to better understand the role of vascular factors such as blood flow in brain health,” Dr. Mazerolle says. 

Dr. Richard Isnor, Associate Vice President of Research and Graduate Studies noted, “this new research equipment and the program of research being led by Dr. Erin Mazerolle significantly expands the health research efforts underway at StFX. With this new infrastructure, Dr. Mazerolle can explore health interventions for rural populations in Nova Scotia.” 

“Studying human brain function has allowed us to investigate the mechanisms of behaviour, as well as track changes in brain function related to neurological disease. A promising technique to measure brain function in humans is functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS),” says Dr. Mazerolle. 

Functional NIRS is inexpensive, portable, and not associated with any contra-indications, she says. These factors make fNIRS a very accessible technology. 

Improved accessibility could be a major advance over current technologies used for clinical brain imaging, which are very expensive and typically less available in rural settings compared to urban centres. 

Improved access to functional brain imaging has potential to reduce health disparities and improve health outcomes for Canadians, and provides a major impetus to explore the role of fNIRS for clinical applications. 

However, significant works is needed before the clinical potential of fNIRS can be realized. “For example, we must optimize the reliability of fNIRS measurements, as well as fNIRS data acquisition and analysis approaches. The infrastructure requested in the current application will used to move fNIRS forward towards clinical applications, such as monitoring sports-related concussion and recovery.”

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