UT Dallas‘ Center for Brain Health researchers Dr. John Hart and Dr. Gail Tillman have earned a grant to fund a three-year study related to multiple sclerosis (MS). The goal of the new study is to investigate the difficulty of understanding spoken language, a common complaint among patients with the disease.
The researchers received more than $690,000 from The National Multiple Sclerosis Society to investigate the neural markers related to MS. “Understanding language is very complex,” said the Center for BrainHealth’s medical science director and Jane and Bud Smith Distinguished Chair in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences, Dr. John Hart. “In addition to good hearing, it requires remembering what was said earlier in a conversation and even what was said earlier in each sentence. It requires being able to pay attention and knowing what words mean,” added Hart. The center’s director explained that being unable to follow conversations can have a negative impact on social and work functioning at many levels. “Understanding this deficit is vitally important to the quality of life of those diagnosed with MS.”
Multiple Sclerosis affects more than 2.3 million people worldwide. It is a central nervous system disease that can debilitate people and create cognitive function issues. The disease involves the body’s immune system attacking its own central nervous system, and while it is not frequently fatal, it does lead to a decreased quality of life as the disease progresses.
The Clinical Center for Multiple Sclerosis at UT Southwestern, and its director, Elliot M. Frohman, will be working closely on the study as well.
EEG sensitive to processing speed
Hart and Dr. Gail Tillman, electroencephalography lab director at the Center for BrainHealth and a research scientist, will gauge the speed from the point at which the sound of a word enters the ear to when the brain has processed its meaning with electroencephalography (EEG).
“Compared to other imaging technologies, EEG is much more sensitive to processing speed,” explained Tillman. “We can measure how quickly the brain is moving from one process to the next using the millisecond time scale of the EEG. This is critical because MS damages the brain’s white matter, which is vital for the fast and accurate transmission of signals from one part of the brain to another.”
The two researches will study 150 people: 50 MS patients who suffer from speech comprehension problems, 50 MS patients that have not experienced the symptom yet, and 50 healthy people. They intend to identify specific characteristics and associations between patterns of disability and evidence of Multiple Sclerosis progression at key locations in the language and auditory process.