Researchers at Stanford Psychiatry, University of Rochester, and UNC Chapel Hill awarded grant to continue research focused on developing personalized cognitive training for mild cognitive impairment

November 2, 2023

Feng Vankee Lin, PhD, MB, RN

We are pleased to announce that Stanford Psychiatry’s Feng Vankee Lin, clinical professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, has received a grant from the National Institute on Aging. The project is a successful transition from the initially funded project that focused on developing a prototype. This new phase of research will be focused on testing the prototype of personalized cognitive training for mild cognitive impairment.

Practicing to enhance the information processing efficiency while performing various perceptual and cognitive tasks, also known as Speed of processing training (SOPT), is the widest examined type computerized cognitive training among aging populations, including those with mild cognitive impairment (MCI). However, the efficacy of existing SOPTs in maintaining or improving older adults’ cognitive health greatly varies across individuals.

Preliminary studies have shown that the flexibility of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) is associated with learning and cognitive and neural gains in existing SOPT in older adults with MCI. The premise is that adaptation capacity, which is primarily reflected by ANS flexibility, is a key contributor to the neuroplasticity underlying broad and sustained effects of cognitive interventions. In the initial phase of this research, the study team combined this ANS response profile with the traditional learning index to develop a “personalization engine,” called pSOPT, to better reflect individual adaptation capacity and to test pSOPT's feasibility.

Dr. Lin is joined by co-principal investigators Cristiano Tapparello at the University of Rochester, and Zhengwu Zhang at UNC Chapel Hill, for the next phase in this research, in which they will test the preliminary effects of pSOPT in MCI. Specifically, they will compare changes of cognitive and neural gains between study groups and explore whether pSOPT will enhance ANS flexibility in supporting cognitive gains against baseline neurodegeneration.

“Behavioral interventions are considered a critical category for slowing, or even preventing, cognitive decline and progression of mild cognitive impairment,” say Drs Lin, Tapparello, and Zhang. “This study will refine a cognitive training program incorporating the approach of precision medicine, and pilot test the refined training program’s cognitive and neural effects in older adults with mild cognitive impairment. If this program is found to be effective, such a program could be investigated further to assess its promise for preventing or delaying the onset of dementia.”

Dr. Lin’s career has been devoted to understanding the neural mechanisms involved in brain aging and brain plasticity, with a special focus on early detection and prevention of Alzheimer’s disease (AD). She currently leads an interdisciplinary clinical neuroscience lab conducting a wide spectrum of research on brain aging, novel non-pharmacological interventions that promote successful cognitive aging and alleviate or eliminate adverse effects of AD pathophysiology, and advanced computational models for understanding and intervening on brain aging. For a recent publication related to this work, check out: “Autonomic nervous system flexibility for understanding brain aging,” published in the journal Ageing Research Reviews.

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