• Home
  • News
  • SFU researcher explores brain circuit function in autism

Research

SFU researcher explores brain circuit function in autism

March 23, 2022
SFU’s ImageTech Lab at Surrey Memorial Hospital

A Simon Fraser University researcher has received nearly $1 million for a unique study exploring the circuit function of the brain, specifically the differences seen in autism.

Teresa Cheung, assistant professor of professional practice in the School of Engineering Science and a researcher with SFU’s ImageTech Lab at Surrey Memorial Hospital, receives the funding from Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) as part of a collaboration between SFU, Fraser Health, Seattle Children’s Research Institute and the University of Washington.

The research project could set the stage for new therapies to help children with autism, according to a Fraser Health news release announcing the funding.

Teresa Cheung

“This is a strong commitment to study autism in a unique way that is not replicated anywhere in the world,” says Cheung. “There has been little study of human brain circuit function because the methodologies and technology haven’t been widely available.”

The four-year study expands on ongoing research pioneered by Cheung’s research partner, Dr. John Welsh, a neuroscientist at the Center for Integrative Brain Research at Seattle Children’s Research Institute and Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Washington.

“We now have tools with the sensitivity to record activity deep in the brain at the speed that the brain actually operates – more than a hundred times every second,” says Welsh. “This is what has been sorely needed and opens up a new frontier.”

The study uses eye blinking to establish links between a child’s ability to show associative learning and various neurological conditions, such as autism and motor and intellectual disability.

“All we need children to do is sit and watch a fun movie while we measure the magnetic fields created by their brain,” says Cheung. “We can involve children of all abilities—not just those with the highest abilities—because the activity is relatively passive.”

The researchers will carry out their research using advanced, high-density magnetoencephalography (MEG) in conjunction with 3T magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) at SFU’s ImageTech Lab at Surrey Memorial Hospital.

The ImageTech Lab, which provides a unique combination of high-field magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) together with MEG, is a leading medical imaging research facility—the first lab of its kind in Western Canada.

These sophisticated medical imaging tools will enable the region’s top health innovators to bring rapid advances in the treatment of devastating brain disorders and diseases, brain injury, brain tumours, epilepsy, autism, Down Syndrome, aging and dementia, depression, addictions, and mood disorders.

“Dr. Cheung, Dr. Welsh and other top health innovators are advancing treatments to help children with autism,” says Angela Brooks-Wilson, SFU’s associate vice-president, research pro tem. “This collaborative project demonstrates the power of partnerships and the importance of sophisticated facilities like SFU’s ImageTech Lab, where researchers can use both MEG and MRI to catalyze advances in brain health research. I am very pleased that CIHR is supporting this important work.”

The lab brings together a partnership between SFU and Fraser Health, to ensure British Columbia continues to be globally competitive in advanced brain and body imaging. 

It advances translational brain and body research and focuses on advanced diagnostics and treatment monitoring in neurology and mental health, and many other healthcare areas.

“The sky, or in this case, the brain, is the limit when we do things together,” says Kate Keetch, director, Department of Evaluation and Research Services, Fraser Health. “The lab was born out of partnership between the Surrey Hospitals Foundation, Fraser Health and Simon Fraser University and is now the framework for this exciting international collaboration that will allow Dr. Cheung and Dr. Welsh to bolster such an important area of research.”

Print