The SCN EAC Thesis and Dissertation Awardees
Dissertation Award Winner: Madeleine Werhane, San Diego State University/University of California
Dissertation Title: Characterizing the effects of vascular and genetic risk on brainstem white matter tract microstructure in older adults with mild cognitive impairment.
Mentor/Dissertation Chair: Lisa Delano-Wood, Ph.D.
Brief Bio: I am currently a 5th year doctoral student in the neuropsychology track of the San Diego State University/University of California San Diego (SDSU/UCSD) Joint Doctoral Program in Clinical Psychology. In addition to my doctoral studies, I am also pursuing a concurrent Masters in Public Health (MPH) with a major in Epidemiology through SDSU. My current research largely focuses on integrating critical findings from both TBI and aging populations in order to more effectively model pathological brain aging processes. Specifically, I am interested in characterizing the nature of the potentially modifiable brain changes—such as those linked to cerebrovascular health—that may give rise to cognitive and functioning decline in late life.
Project Description: Despite mounting evidence suggesting that vascular-associated alterations to cerebral white matter may represent one of the earlier structural brain changes to occur in pathological brain aging states (e.g., Alzheimer’s disease [AD]) (Brickman et al., 2015), such relationships have yet to be explored in the brainstem due to historical limitations in available imaging technology. Accordingly, the present study aims to comprehensively investigate brainstem white matter integrity, including the effects of vascular (arterial stiffness) and genetic (presence of the apolipoprotein E [APOE] e4 allele) risk on white matter tract microstructure, in a well-characterized sample of older adult participants with and without a mild cognitive impairment (MCI). Findings of this project could serve to elucidate the role of brainstem WM alterations in MCI, while also informing targeted vascular- and genetic-based prevention and intervention strategies that may reduce the development and progression of dementias such as AD in our burgeoning aging population.