Explore This Lab

Overview

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.

Our Mission: To transform brain aging and health through innovative scientific research.

Our mission

Our Research Philosophy

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 aspects of neuroscience, genomics, public health, brain imaging, mathematics and computer science. 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 the NIH All of Us program.

Our Group Values and Bywords (5 I’s):

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

Research Projects

Clinical Manifestations of Cerebral Small Vessel Disease (CSVD)

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 is 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.

Cerebral Small Vessel Disease


Predicting Cognitive Impairment after Hemorrhagic Stroke

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.

Vascular Depression Study

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 high 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.

Research Positions

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 agingbrain@mgh.harvard.edu

Publications

Select high profile publications from the Healthy Brain Aging group:

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

For a full publication list, please visit NIH.gov.


Meet our Team

Alessandro Biffi, MD

Alessandro Biffi, MD

Assistant in Neurology, Department of Neurology, Massachusetts General Hospital
Assistant Director, Behavioral Neurology and Neuropsychiatry Fellowship, Mass General
Affiliated 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.


Juan Pablo Castello

Juan Pablo Castello

Juan Pablo Castello is a Research Fellow at the Aging & Brain Health Research Group. He received his MD degree from Universidad Javeriana (Bogota, Colombia). Dr. Castello has prior clinical, teaching, and research experience. His previous research focused on the role of microglia and TLR-4 in cerebral inflammation after subarachnoid hemorrhage.

He currently works with Dr. Alessandro Biffi studying the impact of cerebral small vessel disease, racial/ethnic disparities, and blood pressure in the risk of intracerebral hemorrhage recurrence.


Sophia Keins

Sophia Keins

Sophia Keins is currently working with Dr. Biffi as a Clinical Research Coordinator within the Aging and Brain Health Research Group. She received her BsS in Psychology from Northeastern University in May 2020. She also works with Dr. Jonathan Rosand and Dr. Chris Anderson of the Center for Genomic Medicine.

Her previous research experience includes work with Dr. Lisa Feldman Barrett studying aging and affect regulation and with Dr. Simon Singer investigating incarceration and cognitive development.


Christina Kourkoulis

Christina Kourkoulis

Senior Research Lab Manager

Christina Kourkoulis is the Senior 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.


Axana Rodriguez-Torres

Axana Rodriguez-Torres, MPH

Axana Rodriguez-Torres is a medical student at UC Irvine, California, and has worked with ABHR as a Senior Research Coordinator since July 2017. Prior to that, she spent Summer 2016 as an intern through the Center of Diversity and Inclusion at MGH. She has devoted her time to denoting disparities in higher stroke recurrence risk among minorities (Latino and African-American populations) when compared to their white counterparts. As she is her last year of medical school, she continues to participate in formulating and developing hypotheses that can lead to further advancement of research and hopefully contribute to clinical outcomes improvements in these communities.