MS Society Awards UT Researcher $490K to Study Link Between Blood Flow and Cognition

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by Patricia Silva, PhD |

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Bart Rypma

The National Multiple Sclerosis Society has awarded Dr. Bart Rypma, an associate professor at the Center for BrainHealth at the University of Texas at Dallas, a more than $490,000 grant to study how changes in blood flow in the brain might affect cognition in people with multiple sclerosis (MS).

The grant builds on previous research by Dr. Rypma into dysfunctions in brain networks and the cognitive effects on MS. In the new project, 80 MS patients will undergo structural and functional brain imaging and neuropsychological evaluation, with researchers collecting specific measurements using the latest  imaging techniques, calibrated functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and diffusion kurtosis imaging.

According to a press release, the UT study will be the first to collect such measures in a single MS patient group using these imaging tools.

Bart Rypma

Dr. Bart Rypma, standing, of the Center for BrainHealth at UT Dallas, is studying cognition in multiple sclerosis. (Credit: Randy Anderson)

Brain imaging is a technique that allows researchers to observe the neural metabolic rate (where oxygen is delivered within the brain), how much oxygen is consumed by brain cells, and how changes to these factors can lead to cognitive slowing. Imaging is one of the Center for BrainHealth’s specialties.

“Multiple sclerosis affects over 2.3 million people worldwide, and those diagnosed often complain of an overall slowing of thought,” said Dr. Rypma, PhD, who holds the Meadows Foundation chair at UT Dallas. “Still, very little is known about what changes occur in the brain that cause cognitive slowing in MS. Using fMRI to examine cerebral blood flow and neural metabolic rate, we hope to pinpoint the brain systems responsible.”

The research project will also assess which brain systems — visual, motor, or executive — are most accountable for cognitive slowing.

“Cognitive changes affect at least one half or more of people with MS,” said  Nicholas LaRocca, PhD, the National MS Society’s vice president for Health Care Delivery and Policy Research. “Dr. Rypma’s study explores a biological basis that may help to explain these changes. This work can propel the knowledge necessary to provide everyday solutions for the cognitive problems experienced by people with MS.”

Over 60 funded research projects into brain resilience, brain regeneration, cognitive capacity, and brain training are currently being conducted at the  Center for BrainHealth by neuroscientists.