NeuroPIL - The NeuroPsychiatry Imaging Lab
The NeuroPIL, lead by Dr. Jean Théberge, is a research group dedicated to the development, implementation and application of brain imaging methodologies in psychiatry research.
General Research Experience
My interest in medical physics stems from my original interest in numerical physics during my undergraduate degree in physics where I participated to a project developing automated analysis methods for radiographic images of breast calcifications.
I pursued my interest in medical physics embarking in a master's degree from Université de Montréal under the supervision of Gilles Beaudoin, a medical physicist from Notre-Dame Hospital in Montréal. Throughout this project, I gained a solid basis in MR physics and practical aspects of MRI, fMRI and pulse sequence development on a clinical scanner. The core research of my master's degree consisted in the implementation of fast MRI methods for mapping water apparent diffusion coefficients. Concurrently, I received a general formation in medical physics through the core courses of the medical physics graduate program of McGill University (physics of diagnostic radiology, nuclear medicine, radiation physics).
I then moved on to the University of Western Ontario to pursue a Ph.D. in Medical Biophysics. My supervisors were Dr. Dick Drost and Dr. Peter Williamson, well respected experts in the field of magnetic resonance and psychiatry research. My thesis project involved work with schizophrenia patients and familiarization with spectroscopy (MRS), an entirely different sub-specialty of magnetic resonance, while using the only 4.0 Tesla whole-body MR scanner in Canada at the time. My doctorate work included a clinical application aspect (protocol development, data acquisition and schizophrenia research) and a technical aspect (development of MRS methodology and data processing).
Clinical applications concentrated on the study of various populations of patients with schizophrenia. I conducted five studies and participated to several others. The most unique study certainly is my longitudinal study of first episode patients with schizophrenia studied before antipsychotic treatment, after stabilization with medication and after thirty months of treatment using high field MRS to measure glutamatergic metabolites in candidate brain circuits simultaneously with reductions in gray matter volume. The five studies resulted in publications in American Journal of Psychiatry (2) and in Psychiatry Research - Neuroimaging (2). The last study was a multi-year project completed months after the defense of my thesis. This study is currently being submitted to the British Journal of Psychiatry.
The technical work has focused on MRS pulse sequence development aimed at improving the quantification of brain metabolites of interest in mental illnesses. Most of my technical work involved the use of the Stimulated Echo Acquisition Mode (STEAM) pulse sequence, especially its use at very short echo times and small region of interest. I conducted two studies related to this work. This has led to one publication in Magnetic Resonance in Medicine and another manuscript still awaiting submission.
I completed my Ph.D. in September 2004 and have then joined the Brain Imaging Center of McLean Hospital (Belmont, MA, USA) as a research fellow in the department of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. I worked under the supervision of Dr. Perry Renshaw and in collaboration with several investigators of McLean Hospital. My research activities have been divided between the implementation of arterial spin labeling MRI methods on a 3.0 Tesla Siemens system to study mood disorders, drug abuse and neurological effects of diabetes and the implementation of proton, fluorine and phosphorus MRS methods on a 4.0 Tesla Varian scanner to study the treatment of depression and schizophrenia.
After a year and half as a postdoctoral fellow at McLean Hospital, I was promoted to the level of instructor and recommended to be fast-tracked to assistant professor level. During my postdoctoral fellowship, I have applied for funding of my own in order to pursue research in schizophrenia and have obtained fellowship award from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to design novel MRS techniques to measure brain levels of serine, a naturally occurring amino acid, currently being tested as a supplement (D-serine) to antipsychotic medication which improves negative and cognitive symptoms of schizophrenia by its action on the glutamatergic receptors.
Since November 2006, I have begun work at St. Joseph's Health Care as a medical physicist in the Department of Nuclear Medicine and MR. I have also obtained a research affiliation with the Lawson Health Research Institute as a principal investigator and an academic appointment with the department of diagnostic radiology and nuclear medicine of UWO. I plan to actively pursue research in the field of magnetic resonance and neuropsychiatry. With the help of graduate students, I will continue to develop medical imaging methodologies that keep our neuropsychiatry research program ahead of the competition.
Current Research Projects
Metabolite-selective MRS methodologies
Brief Description: Development, implementation, testing and application of proton MRS sequences isolating signals from specific brain metabolites.
Objective: Obtain signal from human brain metabolites previously not accessible with traditional non-selective MRS methodologies.
Fund: Lawson Internal Research Fund (JT).
I acknowledges that my lab, the Lawson Health Research Institute and Western University are located on the traditional territories of the Anishinaabek, Haudenosaunee, Lūnaapéewak and Chonnonton Nations, on lands connected with the Dish with One Spoon Covenant Wampum and the London Township and Sombra Treaties of 1796. As a descendent of the first settlers of New France, I have benefitted from the settler-colonial interpretation of these Treaties. This land continues to be home to diverse Indigenous peoples (First Nations, Métis and Inuit) whom I recognize as contemporary stewards of the land and vital contributors of our society. As a neuropsychiatry scientist at St. Joseph`s Health Care, I acknowledge that colonial approaches to medical research and mental health care have excluded and exploited Indigenous people. I recognize that the Indigenous people in Canada experience mental health and addictions at rates that are more than double those among non-Indigenous people. Suicide rates among Indigenous youth are more than 5 times higher than among non-Indigenous youth. The concept of Biigajiiskaan particularly resonates with me as a culturally-safe and accessible approach to wellness and renewal that I feel is a responsible way of engaging with Indigenous communities for our mutual benefit, wellness and prosperity.