Stanford Psychiatry receives grant to study novel brain imaging methods to enable the assessment of PTSD brain biomarkers

June 12, 2023

Stephanie Balters, PhD

We are thrilled to share that Stanford Psychiatry’s Stephanie Balters, postdoctoral scholar of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, has received a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health titled “Towards elucidating PTSD pathogenesis with ultra-portable and low-cost neuroimaging.”

The goal of this early career funding is to develop functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) neuroimaging methods that will advance the science of PTSD by addressing questions about brain mechanisms underlying this complex disorder, with the goal of improving diagnosis and treatment of PTSD. Currently, the utilization of brain biomarkers for the clinical diagnosis and treatment planning of PTSD is hindered by the inaccessibility of affordable brain imaging technology.

“Access to cost-effective and portable brain imaging technology would represent a transformative step for PTSD research and clinical work,” said Balters. “I hope to develop novel brain imaging methods that enable the assessment of PTSD brain biomarkers in an affordable, portable, and repeated manner.”

The central hypothesis is that aberrant brain function related to PTSD can be measured with fNIRS. The project has three specific aims: (1) derive cortical biomarkers of PTSD with fNIRS; (2) infer deep brain biomarkers of PTSD with fNIRS; and (3) assess day-to-day fluctuations of fNIRS biomarkers.

Dr. Balters is a computational scientist moving into the field of precision medicine. Another essential component of her research is identifying social factors that contribute to poor mental health outcomes and developing interventions to improve well-being and productivity (e.g., enhancing belonging). She was recently interviewed in an episode of 90 seconds with Lisa Kim about the neuroscience behind appreciation. Dr. Balters also facilitates neuroscience-based empowerment workshops to increase self-awareness, work productivity, self-efficacy, and belonging in women leaders. At Stanford University, she collaborates with the Stanford Grant Writing Academy, the School of Medicine Women Faculty Networking Steering Committee, Stanford Medicine Office of Faculty Development and Diversity, and the Wu Tsai Neurosciences Institute. As a NATO Human Factors Specialist, she contributes to women leadership and recommendations for human factors experimental standards for all 31 NATO partner countries. 

Dr. Balters works with research mentor Allan Reiss, the Howard C. Robbins professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and professor of radiology, in the Center for Interdisciplinary Brains Sciences Research in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. Recent publications written by Dr. Balters and colleagues include “Expressing appreciation is linked to interpersonal closeness and inter-brain coherence, both in person and over Zoom,” published in the journal Cerebral Cortex, and “Current opinions on the present and future use of functional near-infrared spectroscopy in psychiatry,” published in the journal Neurophotonics.

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