My undergraduate work in physical therapy gave me the opportunity to develop a strong appreciation for the field of neuroscience and its importance as the scientific basis for clinical practice. During my doctoral work, I investigated the nervous system in monkeys using powerful electrophysiological techniques and acquired extensive knowledge about the roles that their motor areas and corticospinal neurons play in the production of forelimb movements.
My next goal was to translate the fundamental knowledge I had acquired about the motor system in animal models back to the clinical human motor control field. Following the completion of my PhD, I joined the Oxford Centre for Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the Brain (FMRIB), where I worked with one of the best teams in the field of diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) and learned how to use this powerful neuroimaging approach for measuring structural connectivity between brain areas and corticospinal integrity. I was also involved in research projects where brain stimulation (tDCS and TMS) were used to modulate and measure changes in excitability of the motor cortex. Subsequently, I conducted studies that utilized neuroimaging techniques (MR & magnetoencephalography (MEG)) to investigate how the neural infrastructure supporting simple upper limb movement is affected by the brain’s structural/functional damages associated with aging and following a stroke, and how these changes relate to motor performance. These projects took place at the prestigious Institute of Neurology at University College London (UCL). Through these projects, I have acquired unique expertise and skills that form the foundation of my research program.
The overarching goal of my research program is to accurately quantify the functional and structural changes taking place in the brain following an intervention in order to design individualized intervention strategies that will serve health research and clinical practice. To this end, I conduct experiments that aim to elucidate the neurophysiological mechanisms underlying interactions between motor-related brain areas in different populations and under different conditions. I also use multimodal functional neuroimaging and electrophysiological techniques, as well as state-of-the-art data analysis methods to measure structural changes and precise dynamics of these interactions and ultimately to identify robust and sensitive biomarkers of motor ability.
In summary, my research program comprises two main research streams with the following aims:
1) to quantitatively describe the physiology of brain motor circuits as well as to identify how these circuits are modified by learning, neurorehabilitation interventions, age or the occurrence of a stroke;
2) to assess and improve the performance of intervention strategies currently used in neurorehabilitation and to quantify their efficacy in enhancing motor performance.
These two streams take place in parallel. Methodological measures are being developed at the same time when different types of interventions are be tested. When the efficacy of an intervention is proven, its mechanism of action within the brain is quantified using continually-refined protocols, thus providing knowledge translation between both streams.