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Talks take place monthly at Vancouver General Hospital. The speakers begin presenting at 6 pm, and after the talk, wine and cheese are complimentary in a casual setting. Talks take place at Vancouver General Hospital; please RSVP for exact location.


Talks Schedule for 2014 Fall to 2015 Spring

Our sincere apologies for those that missed our notification of cancellation of our September talk. Please continue to check this website, where the cancellation was listed, for updates.

October 2nd, 2014.
BrainTalks Social Event. 7:30 pm.
Brain Research Centre Library, UBC, West Point Grey Campus. RSVP.

November 27, 2014.
Topic: Traumatic Brain Injury and Concussion.
Speakers: Dr. Naznin Virji-Babul, Dr. Cheryl Wellington, Dr. William Panenka




The talks will be video-conferenced to the following locations:

UBC campus: room LSC 1312
Surrey Memorial Hospital: room SMH 339
Victoria, Royal Jubilee Hospital: room RJH CA 011
Prince George: room UHNBC 5030
Northern BC: room ARC FSJH 0715
Interior BC: KGH CAC 237


Past Talks

2013 Fall to 2014 Spring



September 19: Kieran Fox & Ben Bogart – Dreaming and Mind Wandering
October 17: Alex MacKay & Dr. Clare Beasley – Glial Cells and Myelin
November 14: Dr. Miriam Spering – Visual Signals and Schizophrenia


February 20: Dr. Fidel Vila-Rodriguez – Neurostimulation for Depression, Psychosis
March 20: Dr. Ann Marie Craig – Synapses and Autism, Schizophrenia
April 17: Dr. Timothy Murphy – Brain Circuits and Stroke



Past Talks

2012 Fall to 2013 Spring


September 12: Dr. Peter B. Reiner
October 18: Dr. Philippe Pasquier + Ben Bogart
November 15: Dr. Steve DiPaola + Miles Thorogood

January 17: Dr. Brian MacVicar
February 21: Dr. Chris Bertram
March 21: Dr. Jeremy Seamans
April 18: Mindfulness Seminar: Mark Lau,  Suzanne Slocum-Gori, Dr. Carina Perel-Panar
May 16: Dr. Stan Floresco
June 20: Dr. Grace Iarocci


June 20, 2013

* Last Talk until September *

How Autism Can Help Uncover the Relations between Object and Face Perception


Dr. Grace Iarocci

Screen Shot 2013-06-10 at 9.04.46 AM

Cognitive development is goal-oriented and socially embedded and cannot be understood without careful study of social development.

Dr. Iarocci will describe a program of research aimed at elucidated basic mechanisms of perception and attention involved in the development of object and face processing. There is a longstanding debate about how children develop expertise in face processing – is a specialized mechanism involved or are faces processed much like other objects of interest? To answer this question Dr. Iarocci will look at how perceptual expertise for face and object processing develops over time as children fine-tune their experience with objects and faces between the ages of 7 and 13 years. Whereas the interest in faces is ubiquitous in most children, there is considerable variability in the interest in objects among children. Some children have limited interest in specific objects, others pursue hobbies that involve objects, and still others (e.g., an estimated 75% of children with ASD) have a circumscribed interest in objects that is so intense that it interferes with their family and social life. We will capitalize on this variability to determine if, and in what way, children’s experience with a specific object (e.g., trains) contributes to the development of perceptual expertise for those objects. The findings will inform us about the quantity and quality of children’s experience with objects and how these contribute to the development of perceptual expertise when the object of interest is self-selected and pursued intensively over a 4 year span. We will be able to report on how perceptual expertise in object processing may affect face processing and, if and in what way, selective attention plays a role in the development of object and face processing.

Dr. Iarocci is an associate professor of psychology and a Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research Scholar. She is a faculty mentor of the Autism Research Training Program (ART), funded by the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR), designed to recruit and train outstanding researchers of autism in disciplines such as psychology, genetics, imaging, epidemiology, and neurology. Dr. Iarocci is Director of the Autism and Developmental Disorders Lab at Simon Fraser University. Work in her lab focuses primarily on two streams of research: 1) understanding the development of selective attention (i.e., search, orienting, filtering, priming) in humans and how it is implicated in object and social perception and 2) understanding atypical development (e.g., autism spectrum disorder-ASD) where there are documented attentional/perceptual processing atypicalities that interfere with certain social aspects of perception (e.g., face recognition) yet facilitate other visual-spatial aspects (Embedded Figures, Block Design). These streams of research are mutually informative.

Relevant popular press and journal articles:

How an Entirely New Autistic Way of Thinking Powers Silicon Valley

Science and Autism: When Geeks Meet

Face Processing occurs outside the fusiform ‘face area’ in autism: evidence from functional MRI

From Jounral 'Brain' article by Pierce et al  2001

From 'Brain' Journal article by Pierce et al 2001


May 16, 2013

Uncertainty, Choice and Dopamine

RSVP (click here)

dopamine from wikicommons

Dr. Stan Floresco’s lab seeks to understand the neural circuits that facilitate different forms of learning and cognition using rodents as a model system. His team is particularly interested in the interactions between different brain regions within the mesocorticolimbic dopamine system that facilitate cognitive processes, such as behavioural flexibility, cost/benefit decision making and reward-related learning. His team is also interested in modeling dysfunction in these brain circuits and the corresponding impairments in cognition associated with diseases such as addiction and schizophrenia. His lab uses multidisciplinary approaches, combining behavioural and psychopharmacological assays, along with neurophysiological recordings in both anesthetized and awake animals.
Choosing between smaller, assured rewards or larger, uncertain ones requires reconciliation of competing biases towards more certain or riskier options.  These conflicting urges reflect an interplay between distributed brain circuits involving the frontal lobes exerting supervisory control over subcortical regions that process emotional and reward-related information that in turn influence the particular decision we make.  Each of these regions is interconnected with the dopamine system, a brain chemical heavily implicated in reward and motivational processes, and is thought to be dysfunctional in a variety of neuropsychiatric diseases.. My laboratory focuses on understanding the specific contributions of these dopaminergic circuits to risk-based decision making, and how they interact to facilitate these types of judgments, using rodents as a model system. Our work has shown that subcortical circuitry linking the amygdala (a region in the temporal lobe heavily involved in emotional processing) to the ventral striatum (a region involved in reward-related action selection) to promote a more visceral bias towards larger, uncertain rewards, whereas frontal lobe regions serve to temper these urges when riskier options become less profitable via top-down control over the amygdala. Dopamine transmission within these regions also makes dissociable, yet complementary, contributions to risk/reward judgments, promoting either exploitation of current favorable circumstances or exploration of more profitable ones when conditions change.  These findings provide insight into the dynamic competition between these cortical/subcortical circuits that shape our decision biases and underlie conflicting urges when evaluating options that vary in terms of potential risks and rewards.
For more on Dr. Floresco’ work, please visit his lab website


April 18, 2013

Mindfulness Seminar

RSVP (click here)

* Only 19 tickets left as of April 18, 11 AM. Please feel free to come and be added to a waitlist in case some of the people who have RSVP’d do not show up. The maximum seating of the theatre is 220 people. *

photo from

What is Mindfulness, you may ask? Jon Kabat-Zinn is one of the leaders is applying this term, and the ancient practice that it involves, in modern-day treatment and therapy for a variety of illnesses, ranging from pain disorders to depression. He defines mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” In mindfulness practice, therapy or training, a person learns how it is that the mind wanders, to thoughts ranging from cravings, to anxieties, to anger, depression, self-pity, and how this wandering can be watched from a somewhat removed point of view, increasing tolerance for the thoughts, and enabling more creative decision-making in managing distress in one’s life.

Mindfulness is also a term for what has been developed for centureis, through meditation and yoga. Join us on April 18, 2013, to learn more about the intersections between mediation, yoga, neuroimaging, psychiatry, and mental health and wellness.

Dr. Mark Lau mindfulness

Dr. Mark Lau is a Psychologist at the Vancouver CBT Centre. He is also a Clinical Associate Professor in the Department of Psychiatry, and Associate Editor of the Journal Mindfulness. Dr. Lau’s practice includes individual cognitive behaviour therapy and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for mood and anxiety disorders.  Understanding the mechanisms behind the efficacy of mindfulness-based treatments, and evaluating psychotherapy dissemination methods, are two areas of interest. He is an active supervisor and workshop leader having trained mental health professionals nationally and internationally.

Suzanne Slocum-Gori yoga One Yoga for the People bcca

Suzanne Slocum-Gori PhD is affiliated with the UBC Faculty of Medicine and the School of Population and Public Health. She is the Founder and Director of One Yoga for the People, and Founder of both the Bindu Yoga School and the SARA Foundation.  Among her many achievements and extensive involvement in the yoga community, she also is involved in guiding meditation and yoga for cancer patients as part of Inspire Health. She will talk about her research on the effectiveness of yoga for cancer patients.


Dr. Carina Perel-Panar

Dr. Carina Perel-Panar is a psychiatry resident actively involved in mindfulness therapy and yoga practice. She will present an introduction and overview to mindfulness treatment, its effects on the brain as seen through neuroimaging, and its efficacy in research shown to date.


Upcoming Workshop on Mindfulness:

Connect Health Mindfulness Series May June 2013


March 21, 2013

The Mystery of the Frontal Cortex



Pre-event: 5:30pm wine & cheese

Talk: 6:00 pm

Location: Paetzold Lecture Theatre, Jim Pattison Pavilion, VGH


The frontal cortex of the brain is involved in the processing of many higher order mental tasks, as well as potentially contributing to the processing of emotion. Two areas lie in the midline of the frontal cortex, and these comprise the right and left medial frontal cortex. Researchers have theorized that the medial areas contribute to specific cognitions or emotions. However, when the medial areas are excised, such as in treatment for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, no adverse effects to emotion or cognition are observed.

Jeremy Seaman’s lab has sought to explore the mystery of the medial frontal cortex more thoroughly. In the lab’s research, they have discovered that the medial frontal cortex areas do process emotion and cognition, but using a different mechanism than expected. It seems that the medial frontal cortex forms an ongoing dynamic mental representation of important stimuli or events, and tells us how we feel about such stimuli or events. Rather than being an area involved in higher-order cognition or emotion, the medial areas appear to combine both types of information and thus allow our emotions to help us navigate the complexity of the world that constantly changes around us.


January 17, 2013

The Surprising Dialog Between Neurons and Glia in Brain Function



Pre-event: 5:30pm wine & cheese

Talk: 6:00 pm

Location: Paetzold Lecture Theatre, Jim Pattison Pavilion, VGH


Dr. Brian MacVicar’s work with astrocytes has shown the importance of these cells in regulating blood flow, and providing nutrients to brain tissues of the cerebral hemispheres when blood flow is compromised. Additionally, the MacVicar lab has discovered that astrocytes release chemical factors that modify neuronal activity, suggesting that these cells are dynamic regulators of neural transmission. The lab’s current focus with respect to microglia, involves looking at the mechanisms by which these cells are capable of sensing, responding to, and containing brain tissue damage with a matter of seconds.


November 15, 2012

Computationally Modeling Creative and Vision-based Art


Through the use of computer modeling techniques, scientists are gaining insight into the creative genius of portrait masters. Cognitive scientist and artist Steve DiPaola will demonstrate recently published work, showing how portrait artists intuit the science behind visual and perceptual processing in order to guide the viewers eye and create narrative. Using eye tracking and computer modeling, the study shows convincing evidence that Rembrandt, in his late portraits, used textural control reflective of deeper scientific understanding, to exploit aspects of central visioning which predate the official scientific discovery of these areas. Steve DiPaola will also discuss his recent work showcased at MIT and Cambridge. This recent work uses computer artificial intelligence and studies of human creative thought, to attempt to model creativity on a computer (that paints portraits) as a technique to better understand how the creative minds of artists have unique approaches to solving problems. The study sheds light on how higher level vision, attention and creativity processes operate. Miles Thorogood will speak briefly as to the approaches of information retrieval and machine learning for soundscape composition. Soundscape composition is the artistic combination of audio recordings to render to a listener a real or imagined place.


October 18, 2012

Philippe Pasquier + Ben Bogart

Computational Creativity


Computational creativity is a new and expanding field that attempts to simulate human creativity, and to discover creative processes that are beyond human capability. This field brings together academics and artists to design systems that are capable of making creative decisions. As a discipline outside of medicine, it may offer an alternative viewpoint to invite new perspectives on illness and recovery. Philippe Pasquier will join us on October 18, 2012, to review computational creativity. Ben Bogart will also speak briefly, as to “A Machine that Dreams: An Artistic Enquiry of Cognitive Theories of Dreaming and Mental Imagery”.


September 12th, 2012

Dr. Peter Reiner

Public Attitudes towards Cognitive Enhancement



Past Talks

2012 Spring


January 19: Dr. Todd Woodward
February 23: Dr. Evelyn Stuart
March 22:
Dr. Adele Diamond / Shazeen Suleman
April 19:
Dr. Max Cynader
May 10:
Dr. Derryk Smith / Trent McConaghy
June 14:
Dr. Donna Lang / Cassie McRae * CME accredited event


June 14, 2012

Exercise and Brain Heath

New! CME Accreditation for 1 MOC Study point


Exercise and Brain Health: A Different Approach to Managing Mental Illness and Medication Effects in Schizophrenia.

On Thursday, June 14, Dr. Donna Lang will speak to the potential benefits of exercise on the hippocampus and thus learning and memory. Dr. Donna Lang is a neuroimaging researcher studying physiological, biochemical, and physical markers in the brain to understand the neurocircuitry underlying psychotic disorders. Diffusion tensor imaging and spectroscopy studies inform her work. Dr. Lang will talk on potential benefits of exercise on psychosis.

The objectives of the talk are as follows:

1. Review the underlying structural deficits in schizophrenia that have been identified by
2. Review the physiological and morphological effects of antipsychotic treatment on the
brain, particularly, the hippocampus.
3. Discuss the potential ameliorating effects of regular exercise on structural and
functional deficits in psychosis.

Donna Lang began her academic endeavors as an undergraduate student in botany and biopsychology at the University of Victoria.  At that time she began her first forays into brain research in animal models of hippocampal injuries in rats. After to moving to Vancouver, Donna met Dr. Bill Honer while working as a research assistant in the Division of Immunology at the Jack Bell Research Pavilion in 1994. By 1995 Bill had convinced her that she would be happier pursuing graduate studies and that neuroimaging in schizophrenia was an area that needed focussed attention.  Donna continued focusing her attention on the neuroimaging of schizophrenia and related psychotic disorders through her post-doctoral training as a Michael Smith Fellow with Dr. Alex Mackay in the Department of Radioogy, where she has remained ensconced as an Assistant Professor. After 17 years, she is still focused on the neuroimaging of schizophrenia and other related psychotic disorders.

Prior to Dr. Lang’s talk, there will be a ten minute talk by neuroscience graduate Cassie McRae. She will speak about emerging research in the hippocampus. Cassie McRae has a degree in molecular biology and genetics and was recently awarded a MITACS grant for her research on the hippocampus.  Parsing apart structural differences in the brains of those suffering with psychosis and drug addictions, using magneitc-resonance imaging, is her current area of focus.


To find more details for time and location, please click on the RSVP link. All guests must RSVP.


Relevant articles from popular press:

How Exercise Fuels the Brain – Gretchen Reynolds, New York Times

Aerobic exercise bulks up on hippocampus, improving memory in older adults – Katherine Harmon, Scientific American

How exercise could lead to a better brain – Gretchen Reynolds, New York Times


Previous Talks

(Click on the main photo per talk, to link to PDF’s of the talks, where available)


May 10, 2012

Artificial Intelligence and Cognitive Enhancement


On May 10, 2012, a BrainTalk will be held with two notable speakers, one from the medical world to discuss the use of possible prescription cognitive enhancers, and one from the computing world, to discuss the cognitive enhancement that artificial intelligence tools can provide.

Trent McConaghy, PhD, is an expert in electronics, artificial intelligence and computer-aided design tools.  High-energy and passionate about technology and the future, he is founder of two startups, has written two books and over 50 papers and patents, and has given invited talks at institutions like MIT and Jet Propulsion Lab, and leading international conferences on AI and design tools.  His hobbies include reading dead trees and hacking brain-computer interfaces.

Abstract for Trent McConaghy:

Cognitive enhancement can be more than just a better brain.  We can improve our own processing, memory, and communication by tools that augment our abilities.  Tools enabled by electronics and AI are particularly potent.  From calculators to spreadsheets to GPS, electronics enables tools that make us faster, smarter, and better at our tasks.  From Google to Siri to computer-aided design, artificial intelligence extends our cognitive abilities even further.  Future combinations of electronics, AI, and brain-computer interfaces promise to remap our own realities, impacting not just neuroscience but society at large.

Dr. Derryk Smith will be presenting on the neurochemistry behind the use of cognitive enhancers from a medical perspective. Dr. Derryck H. Smith is a Clinical Professor, at the Department of Psychiatry, University of British Columbia. He also has a private practice, is a member of the Division of Child and Adolescent and Forensic Psychiatry at the University of British Columbia, President of the Medical Legal Society of British Columbia, a consultant for the Life Mark, Brain Injury Program, a consultant for WorkSafeBC, Brain Injury, Urgent Assessment Clinic BC Children’s Hospital, consultant to the Superintendent of Motor Vehicles for the Province of British Columbia, and consultant to Oak Group, Boston, Massachusetts. His areas of practice and expertise are in civil litigation, personal injury claims, Traumatic Brain Injury – children, teens & adults, Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder – children, teens & adults, and Disability assessments – including adjudication of disputed claims.

To find more details for time and location, please click on the RSVP link. All guests must RSVP.


April 19, 2012

Enhancing Brain Plasticity


Dr. Max Cynader will speak to new ways of enhancing neuroplasticity. Dr. Max Cynader, the director of the Brain Research Centre at the University of British Columbia, is a renowned researcher in the field of neuroscience. His interests in exploring the development and plasticity of the brain, with an emphasis on sensory processes such as vision and audition, has led to enormous contributions to the field with over 200 scholarly publications and key contributions to technological developments within the community. He holds a number of important positions, including the Canada Research Chair in Brain Development, Professor of Opthalmology at UBC, and is principal investigator in Canada’s Network of Excellence in Stroke.  Dr. Cynader is a skilled speaker and has given many presentations to local organizations.  A podcast of Dr. Cynader discussing the brain and aging is available for download.  Dr. Cynader is the recipient of many prestigious awards, including Researcher of the Year award from Life Sciences BC in 2007 and the Order of Canada in 2008.  Dr Cynader’s upcoming talk will review his recent work in the area of brain plasticity.


March 22, 2012

Art and the Brain: How dance, music, sports, and storytelling may support critical cognitive development in children and youth


Dr. Adele Diamond will talk about how executive functions develop in children and youth. Executive functions are higher order cognitive functions that contribute significantly to a person’s success in school or life. Some examples of executive functions include planning, problem solving, multi-tasking, working memory (holding several things in your mind at once and working through them), verbal reasoning, inhibition, mental flexibility, initiation and monitoring of actions. In Dr. Diamond’s talk, she will review how and why dance, music, sports and storytelling, may well support the development of executive functions in children and youth. Dr. Diamond has shown that executive function skills can be improved in very young children in regular classrooms, without specialists or expensive equipment. She is currently investigating how play, the arts, dance, storytelling, and physical activity may improve executive functions and academic and mental health outcomes.

A leader in two fields, psychology and neuroscience, Adele Diamond helped pioneer a now flourishing interdisciplinary field, “developmental cognitive neuroscience.” For over 30 years, Adele Diamond has been studying the most complex human abilities (collectively referred to as ‘executive functions,’ which include attention, self-control, and reasoning). As the Canada Research Chair Tier 1 Professor in Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience at UBC, Professor Diamond studies how executive functions can be modified by the environment, modulated by genetics and neurochemistry, become derailed in disorders, and can be improved by effective programs and interventions. Her work has helped change medical practice for the treatment of PKU (phenylketonuria) and for the inattentive type of ADHD.

Adele Diamond received her BA from Swarthmore College Phi Beta Kappa (in Sociology-Anthropology & Psychology), her PhD from Harvard (in Developmental Psychology), and was a postdoctoral fellow at Yale Medical School with Patricia Goldman-Rakic (in Neuroanatomy). In recognition of her research accomplishments she has received numerous awards, including being elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. She was named one of the “2000 Outstanding Women of the 20th Century,” a Distinguished Scientific Lecturer by the APA, and a “Woman of Distinction” by the YWCA.
Shazeen Suleman will present for ten minutes prior to Dr. Diamond’s talk. Shazeen will talk about a music program for children run in the downtown eastside of Vancouver. The music program was a successful pilot program for a developmental screening program in early childhood. Shazeen is the co-founder of the MusicBox Children’s Charity, a youth-run national organization that provides free music education to children with physical, social or financial disadvantages. She also is the co-chair for Medicina: the Arts and Healing, a student-run conference on the integration between medicine and the arts.


February 23, 2012

Neuroimaging in Paediatric OCD: Facial recognition


Dr. Evelyn Stewart is a translational genetic and clinical researcher focusing on correlates of neuropsychiatric findings in childhood illnesses, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder. Dr. Stewart recently moved to Vancouver. Her previous experience includes a professorship at Harvard University, where she developed an independent program of study investigating how genetics connect to clinical symptoms to better understand the neurobiology of several paediatric neuropsychiatric disorders. Dr. Stewart has authored over 50 papers, and is particularly interested in the evolution of OCD across the lifespan. She was recently featured in USA Today. Her upcoming talk will review the neuroimaging findings in OCD, and more specifically, recent findings on amygdala responses to facial expressions in children with OCD, versus those without OCD.

The evening will begin, after wine and cheese, with a ten minute talk by Patrick Carolan. Patrick Carolan is a first year PhD student in the experimental psychology program at Simon Fraser University. His current research focuses on modern models of psychopathy and the associated affective suppression/reactivity to emotional stimuli.  Patrick uses electroencephalograph (EEG) techniques to investigate the neurophysiological correlates of these affective responses in populations of individuals who score high on measures of psychopathic traits (e.g. callousness, antisocial behaviour).


January 19, 2012

Cognitive underpinnings of delusions and hallucinations in schizophrenia.


Dr. Todd Woodward is a highly accomplished researcher in the field of schizophrenia and neuroimaging. He is an associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry at UBC-BCMHARI where his lab focuses on researching the cognitive underpinnings of the symptoms of schizophrenia using novel cognitive paradigms and functional neuroimaging. Dr. Woodward has made signifcant contributions to the literature with many publications in top tier journals. A current paper co-authored by Dr. Woodward is discussed in a recent article by Nicole Jardine, published in the Scientific American.  For further reading, Dr. Woodward’s publications can be found on the BCMHARI website. His upcoming talk will review the underlying cognitive processes associated with delusions and hallucinations in schizophrenia.


Semaphorins may be a clue as to how schizophrenic neurons develop differently. Semaphorins are molecules that shape the pathways of axons (axons are the long connecting ‘wires’ of the neurons). Qian Qian Liu, has been studying semaphorins as part of her Masters of Science at the O’Connor Lab. She will present for ten minutes at the beginning of the evening, about semaphorins.

Please RSVP at

The two large photos above are from an article about Turing Patterns.


October 21, 2010

Technology and the mind: the implications of video gaming technology.

Technology has developed rapidly over the last 20 years. Video gaming, the internet, and high volume computer use are affecting the way we process information and learn. Is technology benefiting our brains or are there adverse effects? Join us to discuss the evolution of the mind within the current cultural climate. How are our brains re-wiring? Can we use technology creatively to enhance learning? Join us to discuss the answers to these questions, and bring your own questions to discuss!

Dr. Tyler Black, psychiatrist, will present a talk on the connection, or non-connection, between video games and violence. A brief video will be shown on the use of video gaming technology for recovery of cognitive function, as a stimulant to discussion. This talk is open to participants from various fields.

Related popular press:

Does constant violence desensitize or bore teens? (October 19, 2010)

Is technology changing the way our minds operate?

Oxford scientist calls for research on technology ‘mind change’.

Changing your Mind (CBC video)


November 18, 2010

The Shadow People: a Paranormal Phenomenon?

Have you ever seen the shadow people?
Are you curious about shadow and “beyond”?
Would you like to experience an illusion ‘in situ’?

Dr. Fidel Vila-Rodriguez will present a talk on the different neurological pathways and etiology of perceptual changes resulting in seeing shadow people. Dr. Vila-Rodriguez has recently joined the UBC Residency from Barcelona, and is also working on The Hotel Study, with Dr. William Honer, Dr. Bill McEwan, and Dr. Donna Lang. The Hotel Study looks into the biological and social elements of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, aiming to characterize the links between substance use and mental illness.

The above image is of a shadow created by artist Kumi Yamashita. Shadow people are shadowy human-like images seen at the periphery of the eye. They can be seen by people as a hypnagogic hallucination, which is a hallucination that occurs when a person is between waking and sleeping. They can also be seen as an optical illusion, or secondary to substance use. Find out more about the neurobiology behind these occurrences, and the diverse explanations for the shadow people throughout history. We will discuss the role of imagination and perception in creating a person’s reality, as well as the medical implications of “seeing things”.



January 20, 2011

Brain Imaging: towards Neurodiagnostics in Neurology and Neuropsychiatry.

How do the rapid advances in brain imaging technology affect our understanding of brain health and disease? An array of techniques, from EEG to MEG, from functional MRI to PET scanning, allow us to understand our cognitive function more than ever before. Networks of oscillating neurons can now be perceived, and interpreted to understand how the brain filters sensory data, and creates certain perceptions of the world. Language and memory processes can also be identified.

Urs Ribary has had extensive experience in brain imaging research, having originally trained in Switzerland and then New York. Dr. Ribary is currently is the BC Leadership Chair for Research in Cognitive Neuroscience, and is coordinating ongoing brain imaging research in BC.

Dr. Urs Ribary will discuss the structural, functional and temporal connectivity of neural networks. Normal/altered brain function in disabilities, traumatic brain injury, neurology and psychiatry, will be described in light of these networks, with implications for both diagnosis and treatment.

Related links:

Dr. Urs Ribary, SFU Faculty

Scientific Learning: cognitive interventional training for accelerated learning by Dr. Merzenich and Dr. Tallal.

Stanford Neurodiagnostics Lab

Neuroimaging in Psychiatry: from Bench to Bedside


March 24, 2011

Placebo, Parkinson’s, Pain and PET: a neuroimaging perspective.

Dr. Jon Stoessl

Register for The Placebo Effect: A neuroimaging perspective. in Vancouver, British Columbia  on Eventbrite

The “placebo effect” refers to a perceived or actual improvement in a medical condition after a patient has received a sham or simulated medical intervention. The Latin word “placebo” means “I will please”, and originally referred to a medicine created more to please than to benefit the patient.

Dr. Stoessl and his colleagues were the first to show that people experiencing the placebo effect have specific changes in their brain activity. They measured the brain’s use of a specific chemical, dopamine, during the placebo effect, using PET imaging. Positron Emission Tomography (PET) uses radioactive isotopes and positron emission, to locate biologically active molecules. The results of Dr. Stoessl’s research were published in the Lancet Neurology, 2002, among other journals, including Science, and Biological Psychiatry.

Dr. Jon Stoessl is a highly recognized expert in the area of neuroimaging of Parkinson’s Disease. He is the Director the Pacific Parkinson’s Research Centre, which conducts the largest peer-reviewed Parkinson’s research program in Canada. Also, he is the Canadian Research Chair for Parkinson’s Disease, the Director of the National Centre for Excellence for Parkinson’s Disease, the Head of Neurology at UBC, and has also been awarded the Order of Canada for his contributions.

Pacific Parkinson’s Research Centre

Dr. Jon Stoessl, Graduate Program in Neuroscience




Relevant Articles:

Lancet Neurology: The placebo effect in neurological disorders.

Archives of General Psychiatry:

Effects of expectation on placebo-induced dopamine release in Parkinson disease.

Molecular Imaging and Biology:

Understanding the placebo effect: contributions from neuroimaging

Reuters Health: Brain’s Reward System helps drive placebo effect

Scientific American Mind: Placebo Effect: A Cure in the Mind


May 26, 2011

Diverse brains: Neuroimaging in Autism reveals individual variability.

The world of neuroscience and neuroimaging is rapidly developing. As described eloquently by the Neuroethics founders at Columbia University, the implications of neuroimaging on our society are significant. The brain “holds a special cultural status as the seat of the mind, central to our notions of self and identity.” Thus, the impact of being able to visualize and study the brain at increasingly sophisticated levels, is strong, both on various fields of study and practice (medicine, marketing, technological applications, etcetera) and on the collective human psyche.

Does each individual human brain have a unique anatomy architecture? What are the similarities between people’s brains and what are the differences?

Dr. Anthony Bailey recently moved to Vancouver from the United Kingdom. Dr. Anthony Bailey is a Professor and Chair of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at UBC and Editor of The Journal of Neural Transmission. Dr. Bailey is a world leader in autism research, with specific expertise in understanding the neurobiological aspects of behaviour, including genetics, neuropathology, and neuroimaging aspects. He will review some of his research in autism, in which the individual variation in brain morphology and correlates of behaviour are evident.

Talk and discussion: 5 pm to 6 pm
Location: Paetzold Lecture Theatre, Jim Pattison Pavilion, VGH
Wine & Cheese: please join us at 430 pm or later for wine and cheese



Possible future talks:

Incidental findings on MRI Head Diffusion Imaging.

Approximately 40% of brain scans reveal incidental findings. Approximately 2% of these findings have clinical significance. How should neuroradiologists and clinicians approach incidental findings? Should patients be informed or would this lead to undue stress? New research is revealing that certain incidental findings may be linked to increased risks of medical complications. New studies are also emphasizing the importance of myelin, the insulating material around neurons, and the new technology that is imaging the myelin in individuals’ brains. Join us to discuss  the approach to reporting incidental findings, discussing them with patients, and to discuss the importance of myelin in both illness and intelligence.

Speaker: We are currently trying to find a neuroradiologist who would be interested in speaking on this topic. Please contact if you are interested.

Related research articles:

Incidental findings on Brain MRI in the General Population, NEJM

Expect the Unexpected, Image

The clinical importance of white matter hyperintensities, BMJ

Brain Images reveal the Secret to Higher IQ, MIT Technology Review


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