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The International Research Training Group “Brain-behavior relationship of emotion and social cognition in schizophrenia and autism” (IRTG 1328) is formed by German and American scientists of the RWTH Aachen University with the University Hospital Aachen, the Research Center Jülich (all within the Jülich Aachen Research Alliance, JARA) and the University of Pennsylvania and is funded by the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft; DFG). The major aims of the German-American IRTG are interdisciplinary and international scientific co-operation and the support of young scientists with aspiration to cutting-edge research. Three basic principles shape the profile of the IRTG: excellence, innovation and international co-operation. To make allowance for the various aspects of the complex clinical disorders of schizophrenia and autism, scientists from a widespread area of disciplines are involved, including medicine, psychology, biology, physics and computer science, among them some of the world’s leading experts in the respective fields. The excellence of faculty and trainees and the international character of the enterprise combine to provide a uniquely inspiring research environment. The IRTG offers a study program that structures an internationally collaborative doctoral process under joint mentorship of a German and an American supervisor. The participants of the IRTG apply advanced brain imaging techniques, including structural and functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI and fMRI), positron emission tomography (PET), magnetoencephalography (MEG), computational modeling of brain dysfunction, receptor distribution and microstructural, architectonic brain mapping, to study the neurobiological basis of emotion processing in schizophrenia and autism.

The IRTG 1328 represents the only structured doctoral program in Germany that is explicitly focused to the neural basis of two clinically and socio-economically highly relevant psychiatric disorders, schizophrenia and autism.

 
First IRTG 1328 students have started their work in Philadelphia

The first two IRTG 1328 students, Evelina Haralanova and Tobias Halene, have recently begun their research work at the University of Pennsylvania. They report their first work experiences.

“During my stay at UPenn I am going to prepare a short computerized test using Macromedia Flash and do a pilot study to check whether this test would detect emotional dysregulation in patients with schizophrenia. I am also involved in adapting German versions of most of the University of Pennsylvania Computerized Neuropsychological (CNP) tasks (R.C. Gur et al., 2001) on the web. In addition, I will be analyzing positron emission tomography (PET) data, examining whether there are correlations between regional distribution of cerebral glucose metabolism and clinical symptoms in patients with schizophrenia; and performance on neuropsychological tasks, as well as anxiety level in both patients and healthy subjects.”
Evelina Haralanova, April 2007

“There are a lot of reasons to be in Philadelphia - running up the front steps of the Art Museum like Rocky is only one of them. Doing research at UPenn is another. I do like it here very much! I appreciate the academic atmosphere and supervisors who care about what you want to achieve. I value my lab and my colleagues for their support and helpful discussions. I welcome the supervision; I have at least an hour every week to talk about projects, progress, problems...My supervisor is Steve Siegel, his lab has two main research programs: animal models of brain abnormalities in schizophrenia and the development of long-term delivery systems to increase medical adherence. We work with an animal (mouse) model of auditory evoked potentials. My interests are olfactory stimuli and their impact on emotional processing in schizophrenia. It is a finicky venture, and on my way there is a lot I could already learn: from handling the animals to the surgical procedure, from ERP setup to data analysis and interpretation, from working with a variety of drugs (NMDA-antagonists, antipsychotics, PDE inhibitors) to genetically modified mice (NMDA hypomorphs and Neuregulin knockouts)... and there is more to come. I am looking forward to the next months and I'll be happy to tell you more...”
Tobias Halene, January 2007

 
EEG scientist Scott Makeig presents research results
Thursday, 15 March 2007 00:00

On 14 March, the renowned EEG scientist Professor Scott Makeig (University of California) gave a talk on his fascinating work, including his influential Independent Component Analysis (ICA) method in EEG research. He presented interesting new results from his work, like the use of ICA for the identification of ERP components, as well as current developments of EEG as an “imaging method”, using source reconstruction methods. The students were afterwards given the opportunity to talk to Prof. Makeig in an informal and friendly atmosphere.

 
ICA as a tool for functional magnetic resonance imaging

On 27 February, Dr. Vincent van de Ven (University of Maastricht) presented his work on Independent Component Analysis and auditory hallucinations. His talk gave insight into an elegant application of this multisided mathematical tool. The fascinating topic stimulated lots of discussions.

 
What about the other? Social Cognition in neurosciences

On 13 February, Professor Kai Vogeley (University of Cologne) gave a talk on his work on neural correlates of social cognition. The highly interesting topics included biological correlates of empathy and perspective taking as well as the new approach of using virtual reality to simulate social interactions inside the MRT scanner. The IRTG students seized the opportunity and made many interesting contributions to the following discussion.

 
DGPPN Intensive Course

The Intensive Course Structure and function: neuroanatomy and neurotransmitters took place in the Research Center Jülich from February 1-3, 2007. It was initialized by the DGPPN, the German Society for Psychiatry, Psychotherapy and Neurology, together with the IRTG 1328. The course placed special emphasis on different aspects of neuroanatomy as well as on the functional investigation of neuronal structures. Leading neuroscientists presented cutting-edge research and fascinating new insights into healthy and disturbed brain functions gained by the most sophisticated new techniques in cytoarchitectonic mapping, microanatomy, functional magnetic resonance imaging, and positron emission tomography. The speakers were Professor Katrin Amunts, Dr. Andeas Bauer, Professor Gereon Fink, Professor Gerhard Gründer, Dr. Juraj Kukolja, Professor Joachim Lübke, Professor Klaus Mathiak, Dr. Axel Schleicher, Professor Frank Schneider, Professor N. Jon Shah, Dr. Tony Stöcker, and PD Dr. Weiss-Blankenhorn.

An exceptional highlight was the Special Lecture held by Professor Steven Arnold (University of Pennsylvania) who presented absorbing brand-new results from schizophrenia research. Furthermore, the participants had the unique opportunity to visit the brain research facilities in Jülich and to work with them in internships under supervision of leading experts.

 

DGPPN 2007

DGPPN 2007

DGPPN 2007

DGPPN 2007

 
Giving new hope to ALS patients: Brain-Computer Interfaces in paralysis

On 25 January, PD Dr. Andrea Kübler (University of Tübingen) gave a talk on Brain-Computer Interfaces (BCI) in the IRTG 1328. She presented the unique opportunity of allowing persons suffering from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) to communicate via EEG. Due to muscular atrophy, ALS patients gradually lose their ability to speak. They can learn to influence their EEG activity which can be measured with EEG electrodes. Patients can learn to write entire sentences and communicate with others.

 
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