James A. Danckert
Canada Research Chair in Cognitive Neuroscience
Tier 2 - 2002-10-01
University of Waterloo
Natural Sciences and Engineering
519-888-4567 ext. 37014
Coming to Canada from
Comparing healthy individuals with patients who have an unusual but common neurological disorder (known as unilateral neglect).
Bettering ways to rehabilitate stroke victims and developing a new understanding of neurological conditions that result from right-side strokes.
A Right Turn to the Left: Rehabilitating Victims of Right-Side Strokes
Imagine half of your world ceases to exist—nothing actually disappears, but you are incapable of accurately representing anything that happens on your left. You eat from only one half of a plate of food as if the plate itself has shrunk to that size, you ignore everyone seated to your left, despite being fully capable of “seeing” them, and when you try to remember that famous square in Milan you visited a year ago, only one half of the details are available to your mind’s eye.
It may sound like Kafka, but it is actually a surprisingly common medical fact—a disorder called hemispatial neglect. It’s not always as extreme as the example above, but it doesn’t need to be in order to be serious—just think about what a little inattention on your left side can mean if you’re crossing a busy street.
As Canada Research Chair in Cognitive Neuroscience, Dr. James Danckert explores this bizarre consequence of injury to the right half of the brain, most often caused by a right-hemisphere stroke. Four out of 10 stroke patients will experience some form of hemispatial neglect, making the search for effective treatments a major medical priority. The search for understanding will also yield valuable insight into the workings of our brain.
With the help of behavioural and functional neuroimaging tools like fMRI, Danckert uses a variety of tests to discover the severity of an injury, and the related brain functions that have been affected. The fMRI data, in particular, is compared to data from normally functioning individuals, allowing Danckert to see which brain areas control which behaviours. Danckert also tests and fine-tunes a variety of rehabilitation techniques, like prismatic lenses that attempt to shift a patient’s behaviour into previously “neglected” regions of space.
Given the dangers and enormous difficulties of operating on the brain, these sorts of non-invasive rehabilitation methods will continue to be the safest and most effective way to treat many brain disorders, meaning Danckert’s research will be of major use to our aging population. He’ll pioneer techniques that will result in tangible improvements in patients with brain injuries, a significant feat, considering that having your brain behave strangely can be one of the most unsettling things that can ever happen to a person.