TTUHSC South Plains Alcohol and Addiction Research Center
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Prinicpal Investigator/Project Director: Peter J. Syapin

Co-Principal Investigators: Mary C. Baker, Sunanda Mitra, Michael W. O'Boyle, Gregory W. Schrimsher

Senior Personnel: Bijoy Ghosh, Brian Nutter, Ranadip Pal, Dwayne Paschall

This proposal seeks to acquire a state-of-the-art magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) system, such as a 1.5-T MAGNETOM Avanto (Siemens AG, Germany), capable of functional MRI (fMRI) via echoplanar imaging, diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), and magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS). These essential technologies will meet the growing demands of basic neuroscience researchers at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center (TTUHSC) and collaborating engineering and human sciences researchers at Texas Tech University (TTU). Acquisition of MRI-compatible neurocognitive assessment software and electroencephalographic (EEG) hardware is requested also. Many research and research training endeavors will be enabled by acquisition of our first research-dedicated MRI system. An equitable management plan developed for easy, controlled access to the instrument and data will strengthen existing, and facilitate new collaborative research and educational programs between TTUHSC and TTU, unique sister institutions whose primary campuses are located side-by-side on contiguous land. 

The overall research theme is the application of MRI based imaging to problems in basic human neuroscience, learning, and cognition. It will encompass research projects that utilize neuroimaging to explore cognitive and behavioral research issues and that develop algorithms to implement multi-modal data fusion and image co-registration techniques to generate brain structure-function correlation maps. Three active, 2 confirmed minor, and over 10 potential projects have been identified. Active projects include: Project 1, Neurocognitive and Brain Activity Correlates of Social Behavior will examine the longitudinal impact of alcohol consumption behavior on functional, morphometric, and spectroscopic brain MRI outcomes in college aged individuals without diagnosable alcohol disorders. Project 2, fMRI and DTI Characteristics of Mathematically Gifted Children will investigate the brain structure and neural circuitry characterizing the brains of mathematically gifted children (i.e., 10-15 year-olds who are in the 99th percentile in standardized tests of mathematical ability) as compared to those of average math ability (i.e., 50th percentile). Project 3, Modelling of the Human Brain through Synergistic Neuroimaging will utilize imaging records generated in projects 1 and 2 to develop multi-modal data fusion and image co-registration techniques to generate structure-function correlation map for modeling human brain functionalities. The scientific merit of such research has been at the forefront of national scientific and engineering news. In 2008, the National Academy of Engineers (NAE) listed “Reverse Engineering the Human Brain” as one of 14 Grand Challenges facing engineering and technology in upcoming decades. The National Science Foundation reinforced the theme of applying human neural models to engineering problems with the recent announcement of the NSF investment in Adaptive Systems Technology.  Modeling human cognition and neural activity requires both structural and functional data, both of which are readily available from the MRI system proposed for acquisition. 

Intellectual merit: Projects enabled by the requested instrument seek to answer basic questions about the activity of the human brain and to provide new tools for data analysis. For example, project 1 will delineate how patterns of non-pathological alcohol intake in young adults influence cognitive performance and the neural substrates required to maintain that functioning. This work will provide much needed data on the impact of patterns of alcohol consumption on our youth and can serve as a model approach to examine effects of other behavior patterns on cognition and brain activity. Likewise, project 3 on multi-modal data fusion and imaging co-registration techniques will not only impact the fields of engineering, computer and information science, but when applied to data collected by active and minor users able to study the human brain, has the potential to generate new insights into human brain function. The assembled team of investigators represents respected and successful senior, junior, and mid-level faculty with proven track records for collaborative research. With administrative and managerial help from the Principal Investigator and full-time technical support for the instrument, team investigators with neuroimaging experience can provide significant advice and assistance to new and minor users, to further the success of this program. Broader impact: Projects enabled through this acquisition will provide new opportunities in teaching and training while advancing understanding of the human brain by reaching across and within academic disciplines involving neuroscience, engineering, and cognitive science at TTUHSC and TTU. Interdisciplinary degree programs can be expanded and developed to take advantage of the rare opportunity to incorporate human brain imaging in student projects and teaching due to the close proximity of TTUHSC and TTU and availability of the research-only MRI system. In addition, regional advertisement and active recruitment from surrounding universities and colleges will be undertaken to incorporate the wide gender, ethnic, and geographic diversity of students in West Texas and surrounding areas into these degree programs.