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Research at Mass General
Our research team in the Aging & Brain Health Research (ABHR) Group is focused on developing new tools to determine individual risk for age-related neurological and psychiatric disorders, and to leverage this information to develop new prevention and treatment interventions.
Neurological and psychiatric disorders affecting the elderly are a major contributor to disability and mortality worldwide. The numbers describing this “epidemic” are truly sobering.
One person in three over the age of 65 will develop dementia in their lifetime. Three quarters of the approximately 800,000 strokes diagnosed in the US each year will affect people over the age of 65.
One in every fifteen individuals above age 65 suffers from depressive symptoms, with 20% of suicides occurring in this age category. We are committed to ensuring these numbers are drastically reduced over the next few years.
We urgently need new ways of diagnosing, preventing and treating conditions caused by abnormal brain aging. Our research group is focused on incorporating various scientific tools to study brain aging in the most comprehensive way possible.
We believe that these problems are far too large in scope and complexity to be addressed using only one (or a few) approaches.
Our research strategy incorporates neuroscience, genomics, public health, brain imaging, mathematics and computer science aspects. We collaborate with many colleagues who bring additional expertise and different perspectives to our work.
We also recognize that brain aging research and medical care must, by necessity, be highly personalized to each individual.
For this reason we joined the nascent field of precision medicine, a revolutionary approach to clinical research that places individuals at the center of the scientific process.
Unlike traditional scientific efforts, precision medicine takes into account individual variability in genes, environment, and lifestyle for each person.
For more information on the precision medicine initiative sponsored in the US by the National Institutes of Health please visit: https://www.nih.gov/precision-medicine-initiative-cohort-program.
Impassioned: We combine scientific integrity with steadfast dedication and advocacy for patients and families
Inclusive: We are dedicated to diversity and service to underprivileged groups in clinical care, research, recruiting and mentoring
Innovative: We apply cutting edge tools in both research and care delivery, and develop new ones to address unmet needs
Interconnected: We strive to communicate to the widest lay and scientific audiences possible, empowering our message and service
Interactive: We always seek to engage with patients, public and peers to reshape our grand strategic goals and research direction
Assistant in Neurology, Department of Neurology, Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH)Assistant Director, Behavioral Neurology and Neuropsychiatry Fellowship, MGHInstructor in Neurology, Harvard Medical SchoolAffiliated Faculty, Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT
Dr. Alessandro Biffi received his MD degree from University of Milan-Bicocca (Milan, Italy), and completed his residency in Neurology with the Massachusetts General Hospital /Brigham and Women’s Hospital/Harvard Medical School training program. He subsequently completed a Behavioral Neurology and Neuropsychiatry Fellowship at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Dr. Biffi's previous research training and expertise include neurogenomics, neuroepidemiology and brain imaging. He has established the Aging & Brain Health Research Group at Massachusetts General Hospital, tasked with developing precision medicine tools for prevention and treatment of cognitive, behavioral and psychiatric disorders of aging.
Dr. Biffi is also involved in investigational and clinical efforts focused on maintenance and recovery of cognitive well-being, as part of the Massachusetts General Hospital Institute for Brain Health.
Christina Kourkoulis is the Research Lab Manager for the Aging & Brain Health Research Group. She handles all administrative, safety, regulatory and financial responsibilities for the group.
Christina received her bachelor's degree in Marine Biology from the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth in 2002. Her previous research and management experience includes sleep and circadian rhythms studies at Boston University Medical School and genetics of brain malformations at Children’s Hospital Boston.
She also currently works for Dr. Jonathan Rosand and Dr. Chris Anderson of the Center for Human Genetics Research.
Meredith is currently working with Dr. Biffi as clinical research coordinator within the Aging and Brain Health Research Group. She received her bachelor’s degree in neuroscience from Washington and Lee University in 2016.
Meredith’s previous experience includes cognitive psychology research focusing on learning, memory, and explanatory theory at Washington and Lee University. She also interned in the process development department at Amgen, Inc. where she helped to create a new methodology for characterizing drug product with filtration and filling applications.
Axana is currently a second year medical student at the University of California, Irvine. She obtained her undergraduate degree and Master of Public Health degree at the University of California, Davis.
Her previous research focused on health education delivered in culturally competent ways in community venues such as schools and churches.
She currently works with Dr. Alessandro Biffi on determining mechanisms underlying health disparities for risk of intracerebral hemorrhage among African-American and Hispanic patients.
Cerebral Small Vessel Disease (CSVD) is a degenerative condition affecting the microscopic blood vessels of the brain, causing them to weaken over time. It is an extremely common condition among the elderly, and it responsible for a number of frequent disorders of brain aging, including hemorrhagic and ischemic stroke, depression, dementia and gait impairment.
The Healthy Brain Aging Research group is focused on identifying individuals at risk for each of these clinical manifestations of CSVD, with a specific focus on personalized risk profiles.
The figure above illustrates the overlapping clinical manifestations of CSVD
Intracerebral Hemorrhage (ICH) is the most common form of hemorrhagic (i.e. bleeding) stroke, and affects almost 80,000 patients in the US alone every year. As mentioned above, ICH is caused by rupture of microscopic blood vessels in the brain, leading to internal bleeding.
Patients that survive this acute neurological injury are at very high risk to develop cognitive impairment, up to and including dementia.
This project seeks to identify those patients at higher risk, and understand which factors increase or decrease the likelihood of developing dementia after and hemorrhagic stroke. We hope to use this information to prevent dementia among survivors of hemorrhagic stroke.
This figure identifies the risk factors that are associated with increased risk of developing dementia after hemorrhagic stroke, with the percentages indicating the contribution to overall risk. Some of these factors, especially blood pressure, are the target of active investigation within the Healthy Brain Aging Research Group.
Vascular depression is a common form of depression affecting elderly individuals with vascular risk factors, especially those with high blood pressure and/or stroke.
The Aging & Brain Health Research Group is studying individuals with hemorrhagic stroke, one of the patient groups at higher risk for vascular depression.
This project seeks to provide a comprehensive assessment of risk factors for vascular depression. In turn, better understanding of vascular depression will assist in patient counseling, guide researchers world-wide in developing more effective treatments, and may lead to strategies to prevent this common brain disorder of aging.
This figure summarizes our current understanding of the mechanisms leading to vascular depression. The Healthy Brain Aging Research Group is seeking to identify risk factors that directly contribute to these processes, in order to develop new prevention and treatment strategies.
Dr. Biffi on the Mass General Institute for Brain Health
Meet Neurologist Dr. Alessandro Biffi of the Mass General Institute for Brain Health, who shares what the Institute for Brain Health can do for patients, including why preventative brain health is so important and what patients can expect from a visit.
Visiting Scholar Program: We are enthusiastic about offering external scientists the opportunity to join us in our daily research work and exchange new ideas and perspectives. We welcome individuals at different levels of clinical/academic training, with specific focus on providing students and trainees (undergraduate and graduate students, medical students, residents, and fellows) with exposure to clinical research in the fields of neurology and psychiatry. Each application is handled and considered individually.
If interested, please contact the ABHR Group at firstname.lastname@example.org
Risk Factors Associated With Early vs Delayed Dementia After Intracerebral Hemorrhage. Biffi A, Bailey D, Anderson CD, Ayres AM, Gurol EM, Greenberg SM, Rosand J, Viswanathan A. JAMA Neurology. 2016. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27295605
Association Between Blood Pressure Control and Risk of Recurrent Intracerebral Hemorrhage. Biffi A, Anderson CD, Battey TW, Ayres AM, Greenberg SM, Viswanathan A, Rosand J. JAMA. 2015; 314(9):904-12. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26325559
Genetic variation of oxidative phosphorylation genes in stroke and Alzheimer's disease. Biffi A, Sabuncu MR, Desikan RS, Schmansky N, Salat DH, Rosand J, Anderson CD. Neurobiology of aging. 2014; 35(8):1956.e1-8. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24650791
Novel insights into the genetics of intracerebral hemorrhage. Biffi A, Anderson CD, Falcone GJ, Kissela B, Norrving B, Tirschwell DL, Selim M, Brown DL, Silliman SL, Worrall BB, Meschia JF, Kidwell CS, Broderick JP, Greenberg SM, Roquer J, Lindgren A, Slowik A, Schmidt R, Woo D, Rosand J. Stroke; a journal of cerebral circulation. 2013; 44(6 Suppl 1):S137. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23709713
Body mass index and etiology of intracerebral hemorrhage. Biffi A, Cortellini L, Nearnberg CM, Ayres AM, Schwab K, Gilson AJ, Rost NS, Goldstein JN, Viswanathan A, Greenberg SM, Rosand J. Stroke; a journal of cerebral circulation. 2011; 42(9):2526-30. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21778442
APOE genotype and extent of bleeding and outcome in lobar intracerebral haemorrhage: a genetic association study. Biffi A, Anderson CD, Jagiella JM, Schmidt H, Kissela B, Hansen BM, Jimenez-Conde J, Pires CR, Ayres AM, Schwab K, Cortellini L, Pera J, Urbanik A, Romero JM, Rost NS, Goldstein JN, Viswanathan A, Pichler A, Enzinger C, Rabionet R, Norrving B, Tirschwell DL, Selim M, Brown DL, Silliman SL, Worrall BB, Meschia JF, Kidwell CS, Broderick JP, Greenberg SM, Roquer J, Lindgren A, Slowik A, Schmidt R, Woo D, Rosand J. The Lancet. Neurology. 2011 10(8):702-9. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21741316
Statin treatment and functional outcome after ischemic stroke: case-control and meta-analysis. Biffi A, Devan WJ, Anderson CD, Cortellini L, Furie KL, Rosand J, Rost NS. Stroke; a journal of cerebral circulation. 2011; 42(5):1314-9. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21415396
Genetic variation and neuroimaging measures in Alzheimer disease. Biffi A, Anderson CD, Desikan RS, Sabuncu M, Cortellini L, Schmansky N, Salat D, Rosand J. Archives of neurology. 2010; 67(6):677-85. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20558387
For a full publication list, please visit:
Aging and Brain Health Research Group
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