Researcher Wins National MS Society Grant to Study Patients’ Emotional Processing Challenges

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by Patricia Silva, PhD |

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A $44,000 National Multiple Sclerosis Society grant will allow a researcher at the Kessler Foundation to advance her work on multiple sclerosis patients’ emotional processing challenges.

Dr. Helen Genova, Kessler’s assistant director of neuropsychology and neuroscience research, has been studying cognitive dysfunction in people with various diseases, including MS.

In addition to neurological problems, many people with MS have behavioral and emotional processing problems. An example of emotional processing dysfunction is difficulty recognizing other people’s emotions by their facial expressions.

One study in particular showed that MS diminishes social cognition, or the ability to read others’ cues when interacting with them. Being unable to interpret others’ feelings and intentions can affect relationships with family and friends, socializing, and ability to keep a job.

Genova will look at a combination of two approaches to improving MS patients’ emotional processing. One is having them work with a computerized program designed to give them better facial recognition skills. Another is interactive training that uses examples from patients’ own emotional experiences.

The approach has helped people with other diseases. This will be the first time it has been tried with MS patients.

Genova wants to see if the strategy can improve patients’ interactions with people at home, at work and in the community, enhancing their quality of life.

“We know that the proposed intervention has been effective in autism, schizophrenia, traumatic brain injury and in our own pilot data in people with MS,” she said in a press release.

“We predict that, following the treatment, neuroimaging will show increased activation in regions of the brain critical for facial effect recognition, correlating with the effects of the intervention,” she said. “These data will enable us to document the beneficial effect of this intervention for this population and others.”

Genova has been using magnetic resonance imaging and diffusion tensor imaging to examine cognitive impairment in MS and other diseases, and how it relates to nerve cell deterioration.

She is doing her research at the Rocco Ortenzio Neuroimaging Center at Kessler Foundation, a center dedicated solely to studying rehabilitation.

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