By Ekaterina Dobryakova
Brain mapping techniques are a key tool for understanding the pathophysiology underlying neurological and psychiatric conditions. In this interview we interviewed leading clinically-focussed neuroimagers to find out about the state-of-the-art in applications of MRI techniques in people with multiple sclerosis (MS).
Actress Selma Blair recently discussed her personal and very emotional struggle with MS with the world, shining a spotlight on this disorder. According to recent estimates, up to 1 million adults in the United States alone have a diagnosis of MS, a neurodegenerative inflammatory disease that diffusely affects the central nervous system.
While MS cannot be diagnosed using neuroimaging alone, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) tools are widely used by clinicians who treat individuals with MS and by researchers who study aspects of MS progression, symptoms, and rehabilitation. The MRI approaches used to study MS vary from the more ‘standard’ and long-standing techniques to new ones that are still undergoing development. Neuroimaging research contributes a great deal to understanding various aspects of MS, from cognitive impairment, brain plasticity, to changes not only in the brain but in the spinal cord.
By Ning-Xuan Chen
The 3rd Annual Event of Chinese Young Scholars for OHBM was held on June 11th, during the 2019 OHBM Annual Meeting in Rome. This continued the success from the two previous meetings in Vancouver and Singapore. The theme for this year’s event was “China Roots, Global Impact!” Around 100 young scholars from universities around the world participated.
The event aimed to bring together Chinese researchers with diverse backgrounds from the OHBM community to communicate, discuss, and collaborate on cutting edge neuroscience research topics and methods. This year, Professor Chao-Gan Yao, introduced the event, and set out the focus on enhancing collaboration between Chinese imaging scholars and International imaging scholars, to the benefit of the global brain imaging community.
Professor Russell A. Poldrack from Stanford University gave the first talk, entitled “How can Chinese scientist contribute to open, transparent and reproducible science?”. He mentioned that China is becoming a neuroimaging powerhouse and he had already had a lot of collaboration with Chinese researchers. For the studies in China, more attention should be paid to improving the reproducibility. In addition, Professor Poldrack proposed two ways to improve it: pre-registration and using reproducible analysis tools (e.g. BIDS apps). Finally, he made pertinent suggestions to Chinese researchers: “Chinese science has great potential but the incentives currently are misaligned with reproducible research practices; the only way to fix this is to lead by example and show that one can succeed in science, while working towards best practices.”
The second talk was from Professor Simon B. Eickhoff at the Institute for Systems Neuroscience Heinrich-Heine University Düsseldorf & Institute of Neuroscience and Medicine (INM-7) Research Center Jülich. His talk was “My (international) journey”. He shared his experiences in collaborating with Chinese researchers, and discussed the development of his Anatomy Toolbox, and how that experience could help others developing new toolboxes. Professor Eickhoff encouraged us to be “open-minded, helpful and productive”. Collaboration can help improve visibility, and software can open doors but still needs commitment. He regarded science as a multi-shot interactive game rather than a zero-sum game. Finally, he suggested embracing the idiosyncrasies of scientific systems.
The third talk was given by Professor Yu-Feng Zang from Hangzhou Normal University, which was entitled “Clinical considerations about resting-state fMRI”. Professor Zang first introduced his own study experiences, and then he mentioned the current state of resting state research. Nowadays, there are too many analytical methods and papers on resting-state fMRI and task fMRI, but too few meta-analytic papers. In addition, statistical thresholds are too stringent and effect sizes are too small, so we need clearer hypotheses and should pay less attention to p-values. Professor Zang gave a few suggestions for clinical studies: recruitment at multiple centers to reduce sampling bias, using new analytical methods to increase effect size, sharing raw data from people with neurological and psychiatric conditions (e.g., ADHD-200, ABIDE), or at least t-maps, and doing source localization and treatment.
The last talk, by Professor Yan-Chao Bi from Beijing Normal University, was entitled “What’s special about doing HBM research in China? ——Some personal thoughts”. At the very beginning, she introduced her background in the field of language. She then explained how we can extrapolate from studying the specifics of learning Chinese languages to understanding universal principles. Furthermore, she talked about the practice: collecting data with special populations in China (working with clinicians). Last, Professor Bi pointed out that in China, there is a unique cultural background and many great colleagues, allowing Chinese researchers to pursue a variety of different research avenues. On the other hand, China has fewer peers in sub-fields and there is a strong pressure to publish. Professor Bi concluded that the best way to solve these dilemmas is to be in touch with the world.
After the keynote talks, Professor F. Xavier Castellanos from New York University School of Medicine, Professor Jia-Hong Gao from Peking University, and Professor Tian-Zi Jiang from Institute of Automation, Chinese Academy of Sciences joined as guest speakers for a panel session. Professor Chao-Gan Yan moderated the discussion, and introduced a topic on “How to improve the global impact of domestic researchers in China”. Each senior researcher shared their insights on these questions.
Professor Tian-Zi Jiang emphasized that the international environment offers a variety of opportunities for Chinese domestic researchers, who can promote their global influence by publishing articles and seeking out international collaborations. However, he mentioned that China is undergoing rapid development and already has a strong international influence, providing a number of opportunities for international cooperation. Therefore, Tian-zi encouraged Chinese scholars to come back to China to seek opportunities.
Professor Jia-Hong Gao shared his opinion that the best way to promote international communication was to publish high-impact articles. These would lead to more opportunities for oral presentations, increasing your visibility. Furthermore, China today provides increasing funds to encourage researcher exchanges abroad.
Professor F. Xavier Castellanos pointed out that young scholars needed to identify their own fields, communicate with an open attitude, and then keep in contact with other scholars. When attending a conference, they should go to the academic poster area, communicate with others, and be open to others’ criticism.
Professor Simon B. Eickhoff further emphasized the importance of participating in the academic posters activity. In addition, he mentioned that when communicating with peers, researchers should focus on the big picture, rather than on the specific details of the research.
Professor Yu-Feng Zang suggested that significant progress can be achieved by doing research abroad for at least one year. Research skills can be greatly improved by gaining more exposure to other research areas.
Professor Yan-Chao Bi stressed that young scholars should be open to accepting different opinions and needn’t be afraid of criticism from others. Just be brave to communicate with others so that you can make progress.
Towards the end of the panel session, a young scholar raised a question that “As a student, how can I communicate with other people on academic issues at an international conference?” Professor Castellanos’ response was that he likes to communicate with young scholars and had a strong desire to help others; for instance, he was prepared to stay after the event to discuss research with attendees. Professor Eickhoff suggested talking to at least 10 academic poster researchers during the meeting to practice presentation and communication skills
At the end, the audience thanked the speakers for their informative presentations and discussions with hearty rounds of applause. After the meeting, we enjoyed a group dinner and more informal discussions on both science and life as a scientist.
Organizing Committee of the Annual Event of Chinese Young Scholars for OHBM:
Chao-Gan Yan, Institute of Psychology, Chinese Academy of Sciences
Ling-Zhong Fan, Institute of Automation, Chinese Academy of Sciences
Xiang-Zhen Kong, Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Nijmegen
Hai-Yang Geng, University of Groningen, The Netherlands
Wei Cheng, Institute of Science and Technology for Brain-Inspired Intelligence, Fudan University
Ning-Xuan Chen, Institute of Psychology, Chinese Academy of Sciences
By Roselyne Chauvin
After the success of the first Australian chapter meeting and the announcement of the OHBM publishing platform Aperture in 2018, the OHBM communications committee took the opportunity to meet Michael Breakspear in Rome to get to know more about brain mapping developments in Australia as well as the progress of The OHBM Publishing Initiative Committee (TOPIC).
Roselyne Chauvin (RC): Hi. Thank you for giving me a bit of time in your busy schedule during OHBM.
Michael Breakspear (MB): Pleasure!
RC: So it's the 25th anniversary of OHBM, what has been your experience with the meeting?
MB: Well, I first went to OHBM in 2001 when it was in New York. So actually, I don't go back 25 years, I go back 18 years. And I think I've been to nearly all of them, except maybe the one in Florence. Because my twins were born that day. So I couldn't come to Italy.
RC: It was a good excuse at that time and we are back in Italy.
MB: Yeah. So it's a wonderful meeting. I mean, it's an opportunity to present your work, to hear cutting edge work from others. I think one of the advantages of OHBM is that people are prepared to present work that's ongoing, rather than work that's finished. And they'll be brave enough to present work that they haven't submitted yet. So you have that feel of work in progress, as well as work that's been completed. Obviously, it's also an opportunity to meet colleagues and network, and see people that you might not see for the rest of the year.
RC: ...and I also know that it was the first Australian chapter meeting this year.
MB: Yes, we had the Australian chapter. We formed that last year. I guess it all started at OHBM, we see each other and obviously, we're meeting with our international colleagues. We decided that we would be meeting as a community in Australia once a year, and building strength in numbers in Australia, and collaborating more. So we had a meeting in Melbourne. I think that was last year, 2018. And we're meeting in October this year in Newcastle. There were over 120 people at the last meeting, and many of the initiatives that you see at OHBM, diversity initiatives, open science initiatives, were really at the forefront of the meeting that Dan Lubman and Alex Fornito organized in Melbourne, too. That was very exciting, with lots of presentations from mid-career researchers.
RC: There is a push to collaborate more between centers, I heard that there are new initiatives along these lines in Australia with more investment in equipment.
MB: Yeah, I think in the last five years, we've had a lot of investment in equipment. So we have two 7T, we have lots of 3T Prisma, we have PET-MR, we have all the vendors represented there. We have MEG with a new MEG center down in Melbourne [see details below]. What we need now is more investment in personnel, human resources, postdoc’s career development, people working across centers with the skills that allow state-of-the-art imaging analysis. And that's what OHBM in Australia is trying to achieve. So that if we have implemented a human connectome protocol in Brisbane, then we can roll it out in Melbourne and Sydney. And of course, it comes with particular pipelines that we put on GitHub, and then we can share those as well. And I think that's the two main things in Australia at the moment, working collaboratively around acquisition and analysis. And also well, in Australia, we fortunately have a fantastic health system. So we're looking at large longitudinal studies, particularly in dementia.
RC: And so there’s a push for collaboration and investment in people; should people at OHBM look toward Australia to find jobs?
MB: Yeah, we have lots of positions being advertised at the moment. But we’re also lobbying state and federal government to make sure that any capital investment is matched with investment in salary and personnel. We’re creating data hubs and imaging analysis hubs that can straddle between different institutes, and working with clinicians so that clinical studies are using state-of-the-art imaging. Because there's historically been a gap between what the brain mapping community is doing and what the clinical community is using on the scanner to do their studies. So we're trying to close that gap.
RC: I wanted to also talk about your editorial activity. I know that you are part of the TOPIC initiative in OHBM. Can you tell us more about that? And so what is your vision about the future of the publishing system?
MB: Well, I'm working with the TOPIC collective, we might say it's a fairly loosely knit group of people, to try and create, with new technology, the ability to curate, review, and publish in an open way, a diverse variety of content. In addition to traditional papers and review papers, we are looking into publishing code, data, tutorials, and Nikola Stikov has been working on transparency in publishing, so you can look at the source code, interact and experiment with the figures, and to allow traditional review, if authors and reviewers would like that, but also to encourage different forms of open and post-publication peer review. You see this already in a journal like eLife. I've been fortunate to be an editor in eLife and, of course, I'm editor-in-chief of Neuroimage. So we're seeing different models. Now we're working together to help the open science community at OHBM to make these ideas a practical reality.
RC: Do you think OHBM can help in promoting those new systems and maybe experiment with it?
MB: It's absolutely crucial that the OHBM community come on board. First of all, just to step back a little bit, I was treasurer on Council. And with all the other council members, we, in communication with the membership, decided to move OHBM towards a society, and then add on a new scene of communications, the communications committee, add on a lot of other activities around OHBM, in addition to the annual meeting. And so the publication platform is part of that. So first of all, there is an investment in starting up the platform. We want the OHBM members to be submitting content, to be reviewing. And we're looking at merit based systems for enthusiastic reviewers to move into editorial roles. And also move to an open source platform. We don't see it as a competition with the big journals, we see it as an alternative. But it needs to be a viable alternative where people are putting their best work and are confident that it's also contributing to their career progression.
RC: We are still at the stage of the exploration and experimenting around those different alternative.
MB: Yes, definitely. So this is making it a reality.
RC: Yeah, exactly. It's impressive, your activity between your research and editorial activities. How do you split your time?
MB: Well, my passion is always for doing research, doing experiments, I get a lot of pleasure out of mentoring my early and mid-career researchers and several of them are now faculty and that's one of the best things that can happen to somebody to see their postdocs become independent. But you know, I've always been passionate to stay involved in curation of the data. I came into the field as a computational neuroscientist so I do a lot of programming, and occasionally even doing a bit of actual maths. I think if I got to the point where I wasn't doing that anymore, I'd be very frustrated as a researcher.
RC: You would lose track of what's going on in the field.
MB: Yeah, in terms of the editorial work and the other work,the good thing is that you're working with colleagues and at OHBM, we're friends, we go out to dinner, and we have lots of discussions. There's a sense of community there with people at the same career stage as I'm not a mid career researcher anymore. You're not doing it as a solo activity. It's a collaboration with people outside of science. For example, publishing in a traditional journal is a collaboration with commercial publishers and people who have been trained in law, ethics, dealing with dilemmas around co-authorship, plagiarism, etc, etc. But my passion always will remain in doing the basic computational and data analysis.
RC: It matters a lot to be able to get the balance. It was a pleasure to talk to you and to find out more about activities in Australia. Thank you very much for your time.
MB: Okay. Cheers. Thank you.
For more information:
In Australia there is a National Imaging Facility through which our imaging infrastructure is funded (https://anif.org.au/). On that website is an extensive list of all the current imaging facilities in Australia.
Australian imaging is around a fantastic new investment in infrastructure, including new equipment and upgrades to old equipment, across the entire country. The funding is from NCRIS (National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy) and is on the order of tens of millions over 5 years, with substantial co-investments from partnering institutions and state government.
Some of the highlights from this are:
There are also substantial upgrades across the country, including to the MEG at Swinburne, Human 3T at Florey and Swinburne, Human 7T at both University of Queensland and University of Melbourne, and preclinical 9.4T and 11.7T at UWA and WSU respectively.