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Stony Brook Receives $1 Million for Brain Aging Research from Keck Foundation
Researchers to use high-tech imaging to better understand nutrition of brain neurons and cognition
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Lilianne R. Mujica-Parodi, PhD,

STONY BROOK, N.Y., August 15, 2017 – Stony Brook University has received a three-year $1 million grant from the W.M. Keck Foundation to fund research that uses brain imaging data to understand how the nutrition of brain neurons affects cognition in aging humans. The research could provide a critical first step toward personalized medicine in neurology for aging patients.

The project, titled “Protecting the Aging Brain: Self-Organizing Networks and Multi-Scale Dynamics Under Energy Constraints,” is led by Lilianne R. Mujica-Parodi, PhD, Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Stony Brook University School of Medicine. The work involves interdisciplinary research and collaboration between Stony Brook University and the Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital.

“This prestigious grant from the Keck Foundation supports innovative imaging research that will help transform the way scientists study the aging brain,” said Samuel L. Stanley Jr., MD, President of Stony Brook University. “The funding also comes at a crucial time, as the aging of America will continue and the importance of dietary and other interventions to protect the aging brain are more vital than ever.”

Dr. Mujica-Parodi and co-investigators will integrate human neuroimaging data – from 7-Tesla fMRI and positron emission tomography – with multi-scale biomimetic modeling to test hypotheses with respect to how energy constraints based on diet and mitochondria affect neural efficiency in the aging brain.

The collaborative work of Stony Brook faculty on the aging brain with scientists from other leading medical research institutions provides a strong basis for advancing this important area of 21st Century medicine,” said Kenneth Kaushansky, MD, Senior VP for the Health Sciences and Dean of the School of Medicine. “Using extremely sophisticated imaging algorithms to trace neural pathways, coupled to metabolic interventions seen under stress, Dr. Mujica-Parodi will likely gain practical insights into methods to improve cognition in elderly individuals.”

The research builds on the pilot work of Dr. Mujica-Parodi and colleagues at Stony Brook University’s Laufer Center for Physical and Quantitative Biology and the Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging.  The team approaches brain network connectivity, assessed by fMRI and associated cognitive function, as a dynamic emergent phenomenon. They developed a metabolic-neuron hybrid model that can be used in the imaging research to identify and gauge energy input via glucose, glycogen and ketone kinetics.

“By using the imaging and biomimetic modeling techniques, we will investigate the use of exogenous ketones, a fuel source that is an alternative to glucose, as a way to ameliorate age-related effects,” explained Dr. Mujica-Parodi. “We hope our findings prove that personalized medicine for neurology is within our reach and that our methods can be a model toward that goal.”

The research team will use their approach to predict how neural networks self-organize in response to changes in energy supply and demand, and then compare those results to data on individuals to better understand the exact connection between nutrition to brain neurons and cognitive capacity.

 Photo Credit: Lilianne R. Mujica-Parodi, PhD

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  About Stony Brook University

Stony Brook University is going beyond the expectations of what today’s public universities can accomplish. Since its founding in 1957, this young university has grown to become one of only four University Center campuses in the State University of New York (SUNY) system with more than 25,700 students, 2,500 faculty members, and 18 NCAA Division I athletic programs. Our faculty have earned numerous prestigious awards, including the Nobel Prize, Pulitzer Prize, Indianapolis Prize for animal conservation, Abel Prize and the inaugural Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics. The University offers students an elite education with an outstanding return on investment: U.S. News & World Report ranks Stony Brook among the top 40 public universities in the nation. Its membership in the Association of American Universities (AAU) places Stony Brook among the top 62 research institutions in North America. As part of the management team of Brookhaven National Laboratory, the University joins a prestigious group of universities that have a role in running federal R&D labs. Stony Brook University is a driving force in the region’s economy, generating nearly 60,000 jobs and an annual economic impact of $4.65 billion. Our state, country and world demand ambitious ideas, imaginative solutions and exceptional leadership to forge a better future for all. The students, alumni, researchers and faculty of Stony Brook University are prepared to meet this challenge.

  About the W.M. Keck Foundation

Based in Los Angeles, the W. M. Keck Foundation was established in 1954 by the late W. M.Keck, founder of the Superior Oil Company.  The Foundation’s grant making is focused primarily on pioneering efforts in the areas of medical, science and engineering research.  The Foundation also maintains an undergraduate education program that promotes distinctive learning and research experiences for students in the sciences and in the liberal arts, and a Southern California Grant Program that provides support for the Los Angeles community, with a special emphasis on children and youth from low-income families, special needs populations and safety-net services.  For more information, please visit www. wmkeck.org.

Reporter Contact:  Gregory Filiano
631 444-9343