Conference was addressed to neuropsychologists, clinicians, neurological speech and language therapists, occupational therapists, cognitive scientists dealing with diagnostics and rehabilitation of patients suffering from neurological, neurodegenerative, neurodevelopment and mental diseases. In the conference had participated specialists from 22 countries, including Australia, United Kingdom, USA, Japan, New Zealand and Canada.
Lectures and workshops were dedicated to topics such as neuroimaging of changes in brain after stoke and effects of neuropsychological rehabilitation, influence of environmental factors on prenatal brain development, changes in brain after head trauma, after marihuana intake or in the course of HIV infection. Much attention had been given to the challenges of clinical neuropsychology in multicultural societies and to changes of cognitive processes relayed to brain ageing.
An exceptional interest aroused presentation of Prof. Terrie Inder from the Harvard Medical School. She specializes in brain studies of prematurely born children, trying to identify factors best suited to predict their later psychomotor development. In her presentation she discussed neuroimaging techniques allowing studying early development of brain and monitoring its eventual damages. In prematurely born children most frequent is the selective white-matter injury, so-called periventricular leukomalacia. Persistent hypoxia may lead to damages in cortex. These damages can be observed using magnetic resonance techniques – voxel volumetry and resting-state fMRI, as well as the high-density diffuse optical tomography.
Another issue discussed in the lecture was influence of early CNS injury in prematurely born children on their development. Consequences of this injury include: abnormal psychomotor development (including its retardation), disharmonious development, sight and hearing defects, cerebral palsy, and emotional disorders. Some of these symptoms may manifest as late as 2-3 years of age or at school age. Due to high brain plasticity in that period, child’s development may also be within norm. In her lecture Prof. Inder presented also results of studies confirming high effectiveness of therapeutic hypothermia, which involves lowering of newborn’s body and brain temperature to about 34oC. This allows reducing neurological sequelae in newborns born in asphyxia or with brain stroke. She demonstrated also examples of medical equipment for cooling of the whole body (special mats and suits) or only the brain (special cooling caps). In her lecture Prof. Inder has shared also her extensive experiences as a clinician, observing that in examination of a newborn child (especially prematurely born) sometimes more important than the advanced medical procedures is prolonged observation of child’s behavior (head position, pupils, possible asymmetrical position of hands and legs, level of awareness, spontaneous movements). Essential is also an emotional contact between parents and a child – speaking to a child (even when a child stays in an incubator), stroking, hugging stimulate brain, which has been confirmed by scientific studies using the newest neuroimaging studies.
The Institute of Physiology and Pathology of Hearing was represented by the team of its Bioimaging Research Center. Dr. Agnieszka Pluta has presented the results of study on influence of HIV virus on cognitive functions and brain structure, conducted under the multicenter grant financed by the National Science Center. Study was conducted in collaboration with the researchers from the Faculty of Psychology of the University of Warsaw, Hospital of Infectious Diseases in Warsaw, Institute of Psychiatry and Neurology and researchers from the USA. Presentation was met with large interest due to the large material (50 patients – HIV carriers and 50 controls) and application of different research tools including both neuropsychological diagnostics and modern brain neuroimaging techniques. Its innovative aspect involved also investigating of the eventual additive influence of age and virus on the status of cognitive processes and brain functions. Study results have confirmed that in spite of an effective retrovirus treatment patients suffer working memory dysfunctions. Moreover, volume of some areas of brain decreases, mostly in frontal, temporal and parietal lobes.
Changes in brain structure are more visible in elderly people infected with HIV compared to a control group. The results support the hypothesis of accelerated ageing, which says that HIV causes changes in brain functions and structures characteristic for the elderly people. The team of the Bioimaging Research Center will continue studies of this topic.