Nathalie Meyer won the Doc.Mobility EPFL grant – Congratulations!

© 2022 EPFL

© 2022 EPFL

Congratulations to Nathalie Meyer!
The Doc.Mobility EPFL grant will allow Nathalie to spend 6 months at West Virginia University, Rockefeller Neurosciences Institute (WVU-RNI) with the team of Prof. Rezai. From August 2022 until January 2023, Nathalie will work on a project titled ‘Focused ultrasound (FUS) to open the blood-brain barrier in the medial temporal lobe of patients with early Alzheimer’s disease: FUS effects on spatial memory and neuroimaging’.

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the most prevalent dementia worldwide, affecting 9 million of individuals in Europe, and the number of patients is expected to double by 2030. AD is characterized by an accumulation of amyloid-beta plaques within the medial temporal lobe (MTL), which is associated with cognitive decline, and often (spatial) memory deficits. Although AD is currently irreversible, several cutting-edge methods are tested to alleviate symptoms and reduce amyloid-beta plaques accumulation. For instance, the reversible opening of the blood-brain barrier using focused ultrasound (FUS-BBBD) has been shown to lead to a reduction of amyloid-beta plaques in animals. Prof. Rezai at West Virginia University, Rockefeller Neurosciences Institute (WVU-RNI) has recently been the first showing his possible application in humans (Rezai et al., 2020), therefore, paving the way for its potential treatment to decelerate disease progression.

During her stay at WVU-RNI, Nathalie will strengthen a long-standing ongoing collaboration, started years ago by Prof. Olaf Blanke together with Dr. Emanuela De Falco and Dr. Fosco Bernasconi. Nathalie will use FUS-BBBD to evaluate and potentially improve activity in the MTL in early AD patients. Nathalie will quantify the effect of this treatment using a spatial memory task in immersive virtual reality (VR, see Fig. E, De Falco et al., in prep.), before, during, and after FUS-BBBD. Behavioral and functional brain imaging (fMRI) data will be used to identify the modulation associated with FUS-BBBD and its potential association with amyloid-beta plaques reduction. We expect to observe an improved performance due to FUS-BBBD, compared to a control group (AD patients without FUS-BBBD).

During her PhD, Nathalie used different fMRI-VR scenarios to study the sensorimotor effects on episodic memory and their neural mechanisms in healthy participants (Meyer & Gauthier, in prep). Her results have shown that MTL, the prefrontal and premotor cortex are activated differently during encoding and retrieval depending on the success of the sensorimotor integration and that their activation reflects memory performance induced by the experimental manipulation. These results help to understand episodic memory processes and are also of high relevance for the future development and quantification of therapies in AD.

This project will allow Nathalie to translate her knowledge in VR, cognitive science and brain imaging to a specific clinical population and for learning a new cutting-edge method. While at EPFL Nathalie has investigated the effects of a VR-based manipulation on memory using neuroimaging. This current project will allow her to study the effect of a more direct and causal manipulation (FUS-BBBD) on memory processes. Overall, this work could improve our understanding of the neural substrates of memory and possibly provide future pathways for the treatment of memory-related cognitive deficits in the most frequent neurodegenerative disorder.


EPFL’s Doc.Mobility is jointly funded by Swissuniversities and EPFL


Rezai, A. R., Ranjan, M., D’Haese, P.-F., Haut, M. W., Carpenter, J., Najib, U., Mehta, R. I., Chazen, J. L., Zibly, Z., Yates, J. R., Hodder, S. L., & Kaplitt, M. (2020). Noninvasive hippocampal blood-brain barrier opening in Alzheimer’s disease with focused ultrasound. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 117(17), 9180–9182.