Sara Stampacchia was selected as Neuro-X Postdoctoral Fellow!
Congratulations to Sara Stampacchia, who was selected as this year’s Neuro X Postdoctoral Fellow! This new program at Neuro-X will allow Sara Stampacchia to work on a new exciting project entitled “Technology-based antipsychotic therapy in Parkinson’s disease” aiming to reduce the occurrence of hallucinations in Parkinson’s Disease patients, thanks to an innovative approach combining robotics and real-time fMRI neurofeedback. Candidates were selected on the basis of their CV and quality of their proposal.
Although is Parkinson’s Disease is mostly known as a movement disorder, it is also often accompanied by hallucinations. Hallucinations have a dramatic impact on the affected patients, their caregivers and families, having been linked to poorer quality of life and major negative clinical outcomes, including cognitive impairment and dementia, depression, early home placement, and a higher risk of mortality. Nevertheless, the existing pharmacological treatments for hallucinations have limited efficiency and severe side effects, including worsening of the motor symptoms. The development of novel treatments is however hampered by methodological shortcomings to study hallucinations, limiting the understanding of their brain mechanisms. Hallucinations are in fact challenging to test empirically, as they are subjective and private experiences and their occurrence is unpredictable.
The Blanke Lab has made important steps in overcoming these limitations by pioneering a robotics-based approach that effectively induces presence hallucinations (PH), the earliest and most prevalent hallucinations in PD. Merging the robotic technology with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) has allowed to identify specific brain networks associated with PH. This has subsequently allowed, in a proof-of-concept study, the use of real- time fMRI neurofeedback (fMRI-NF), in collaboration with the Van De Ville Lab, for self-regulation of hallucination-related brain activity in healthy participants. In her project Sara will investigate whether fMRI-NF is effective when used as a non-invasive anti-psychotic therapy for PD patients with hallucinations, aiming to down-regulate in real-time the activity of the brain-networks associated with hallucinations (PH-state network). Patients will undergo intense NF training for 5 weeks, and will be followed-up after 3 and 6 months, to investigate long-term fMRI-NF effects. Considering the established association between hallucinations and cognitive decline, the proposed treatment may also hold potential to positively impact the delay of PD dementia progression. If successful, this approach will be the first non-pharmacological and non-invasive treatment for hallucinations in PD.
The Neuro-X Fellowship program is funded by the Schools of Engineering, Life Sciences and Computer and Communication Sciences, and by the Neuro X Institute, seeks to support the next generation of leaders developing innovative research at the crossroads of neuroscience, neuroengineering and neurocomputation, and contemplating clinical translation.