New faculty spotlight: Xiaoqian Chai

"What excites me about The Neuro is the stimulating environment and its long tradition of excellence in brain research."

Xiaoqian Chai is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery at McGill University, and a Canada Research Chair (Tier 2) in Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience. 

Chai is leading a research group that is seeking to understand the relation between brain organization and cognitive development, and to examine how large-scale brain networks support learning, memory and language. 

What excites you about working at The Neuro?

What excites me about working at The Neuro is the stimulating environment and its long tradition of excellence in brain research.

Tell us about your research examining large-scale brain networks.

Cognition ultimately arises from interactions among distributed brain regions. Our research focuses on how different brain regions talk and interact with each other to form these large-scale networks.

We are trying to understanding how large scale networks mature from children to adults and how they support memory and learning in healthy and atypically developing children and adolescents.

What do you hope to achieve at The Neuro?

The long-term goal of my research is to understand the interaction between brain development and cognitive development: how brain maturation supports cognitive development, and how learning experiences shape brain development. Over the next five years, my research will focus specifically on how development of memory networks supports episodic memory from middle childhood to early adulthood.

How is your work going to benefit patients?

Knowledge of how brain network maturation interacts with cognitive development will help us better understand developmental disorders such as autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, which are complex disorders that arise for dysfunction of multiple networks in the brain.

What inspired you to study neuroscience and how does it connect to your interests in chemistry and computer science?

There is something extremely fascinating about using our intelligence to study the brain itself, the intricacy of which makes the human brain so powerful. My interests in computer science and chemistry give me perspectives on different levels when thinking about the brain. For example, my background in chemistry makes me appreciate neuroscience research on what is happening in the brain at the molecular level. In a way, the brain is an enormously sophisticated computer made of neurons. However there some things that a computer can do very easily but are hard for humans, at the same time there are things that seem very easy for the brain but hard for computers. I found that very interesting.

What motivates you?

I will have to say, the desire to discover something new has been driving me all these years in my scientific career. It is extremely exciting and rewarding to learn something new about how our brains work, even if it is a very small increment in knowledge.

Xiaoqian:

My work is looking at the development of large scale networks in the brain and how they support learning and memory in children.

The brain consists of many different regions and it's really important to know how these different regions talk to each other and interact with each other, and how this process develops from children to adults.

I think we're at a very exciting time where, with the technological advances, with brain imaging, computational methods, we're getting closer to apply these basic knowledge to be able to maybe make an impact on some of the developmental disorders such as ADHD and Autism.

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The Neuro is a McGill research and teaching institute; delivering high quality patient care, as part of the Neuroscience Mission of the McGill University Health Centre. We are proud to be a Killam Institution, supported by the Killam Trusts.