• The Center mourns the loss of a dear friend and tireless CVL supporter. click here

  • CVL councilmember and benefactor’s life remembered in the Dallas Morning here

  • Aging-themed issue of Nautilus Magazine explores cognitive benefits of learning a new game such as chess, cites here

  • ‘Fitizen’ group at the Jewish Community Center of Dallas learns about research at CVL. click here

  • CVL research published in JoN finds that some memories persist in the face of strong interference. click here

  • Dr. Sara Festini’s research probes busyness levels and cognitive here

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CVl Annual Review

CVl Annual Review

Charting Our Progress is CVL’s annual review, with archives available

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Federal Funding Influx Allows Center Labs to Pursue New Studies

DALLAS – Sept. 28, 2018 – Three of the Center for Vital Longevity’s six laboratories have recently received federal funds to start new research or continue existing studies on the cognitive neuroscience of aging.

Dr. Denise Park’s lab was awarded $1.2 million from the National Institute on Aging (NIA) for a project titled the “Impact of Challenging Engagement on Cognition in Older Adults: A Clinical Trial” – otherwise known as “Synapse 2.”

To address the question of whether we can slow the rate at which the mind and the brain age, Dr. Park, director of research and the founder of the Center, initiated the Synapse project just before the Center was founded, with an initial grant of $2 million in NIA funding.

As part of the project, older adults were randomly assigned to mentally challenging conditions including learning digital photography, quilting or both. Dr. Park and her team used written tests and MRI scans to measure participants’ cognitive and brain function before and after participating to learn whether cognitive stimulation, socialization or a combination of both changed or improved their functioning.

Results showed that memory improved after learning to take digital photographs, but further study is needed to determine how mentally challenging activities facilitate memory in cognitively normal adults through changes in neural structure and function.

With this infusion of $1.2 million from the NIA’s Alzheimer’s Disease Initiative, Dr. Park and her lab will recreate similar conditions to the earlier project to replicate the original effect. If replication is successful, they expect to begin a large clinical trial testing whether sustained engagement delays normal and pathological cognitive decline.

Dr. Karen Rodrigue recently received a five-year, $3.5 million award from the NIA for her project titled, “Mechanisms and Predictors of Brain Aging in Healthy Aging, Preclinical AD and MCI.”

Much of Dr. Rodrigue’s research has sought to distinguish the age-related brain changes that signal preclinical Alzheimer’s Disease from changes that reflect non-pathological aging. Her research has already begun to provide insight into when certain biomarkers that are associated with risk for Alzheimer’s begin to accumulate in the brain.

In a study made possible by the new funding, Dr. Rodrigue and her lab will examine the impact of novel biomarkers, such as brain iron accumulation, changes in synaptic density and accumulation of beta amyloid, as early markers of neural and cognitive decline in healthy adults with and without genetic risk for Alzheimer’s, as well as in adults in the earliest phase of Alzheimer’s with Mild Cognitive Impairment.

She and her lab will also test whether differences in “neural modulation” in response to increasing cognitive demands might also serve as a biomarker in people who don’t yet have symptoms of Alzheimer’s but may harbor Alzheimer’s pathology. Early evidence suggests that the brains of people with slightly elevated levels of amyloid may have to recruit more cognitive resources to complete tasks.

Thirdly the National Institute on Aging awarded Dr. Chandramallika Basak more than $760,000 in funding to explore the potential benefits of cognitive training in a project titled, “Strategic Training to Optimize Neurocognitive Functions in Older Adults.”

Dr. Basak will be investigating cognition in older adults by exercising their working memory and attention, through the use of both experimenter-developed and commercially available video games. The aim is to determine whether the ability to switch attention between different features of the environment and to perform complex tasks improves as a result of structured practice on different types of video games.

“The ability to flexibly and efficiently switch your attention from one thing to another underlies successful performance on a broad array of cognitive tasks,” Dr. Basak says. Training in this area may enhance performance not only on related tasks, but also on tasks that are not related to the training task – and may not have anything to do with the game-based simulations these healthy older adults will be exposed to, she added.

“These recent awards are a very welcome addition to the federal funding held by the Center,” said CVL Director Dr. Michael Rugg. “They will support important and urgently needed research, and are a testimony to the talents of my colleagues and to the high quality of their research programs.”


Founded in 2010, CVL is a research center of the University of Texas at Dallas, with scientists studying the cognitive neuroscience of aging and ways to maintain cognitive health for life. Researchers at CVL also investigate how to slow cognitive aging and methods for the early detection of age-related neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer’s Disease. Other research includes studies investigating the cognitive neuroscience of memory, and other fundamental cognitive processes.