Assistant Professor, Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders
University of Texas, Austin
The ability to communicate is central to our lives. Speaking, listening, reading, and writing are fundamental aspects of how we define ourselves personally, socially, and professionally, and yet, we often take these abilities for granted. Aphasia is a disorder caused by stroke, injury, or disease in the brain that manifests as a loss of the ability to communicate. Dr. Maya Henry, Assistant Professor of Communication Sciences and Disorders and director of the Aphasia Research and Treatment Lab at UT Austin, conducts research examining cognitive-linguistic interventions to promote improved communication in patients with this devastating diagnosis. There is still a great deal to be learned with regard to the most effective modes of intervention for aphasia and related disorders. Further, researchers like Dr. Henry seek not only to understand which interventions are maximally beneficial, but why treatment works at the neural level.
Aphasia most often occurs as a result of stroke, but may also emerge as a prominent feature in neurodegenerative disease. There are currently no pharmacological interventions that are proven to significantly enhance cognition and communication in dementia. However, Dr. Henry’s work has shown that behavioral interventions hold promise for improving communication, potentially even protecting patients against future decline. “We live in an age where medical advances allow us to live longer than ever before. Therefore, it is incumbent upon the medical and scientific communities to discover keys to neuroplasticity so that our brains may enjoy the same longevity as our bodies,” says Dr. Henry. Her NIH-funded research aims to develop potent interventions for speech and language deficits in individuals with a neurodegenerative disorder called primary progressive aphasia. Patients receive individually tailored treatment and are followed for a full year post-treatment in order to assess the long-term benefits of intervention. MRI scans are analyzed to identify structural and functional predictors of treatment outcomes. Dr. Henry is collaborating with Dr. Maria Luisa Gorno-Tempini (University of California, San Francisco) on this research.
Given the ever-increasing number of individuals who speak more than one language, Dr. Henry is interested in developing treatments not only for monolingual, but also bilingual and multilingual speakers. Speakers of more than one language may lose their ability to communicate in their various languages in different ways and at different rates. Additionally, clinicians, who may not themselves be bi- or multilingual, seek ways to promote transfer of gains across languages, making treatment more effective and efficient. These special considerations have led Aphasia Research and Treatment Lab doctoral student Stephanie Grasso to design an intervention study for bilingual speakers with aphasia. She seeks to determine whether cross-linguistic transfer, or carry-over from one language to the other, may be observed in bilingual patients. Additionally, her work investigates whether bilingual patients with dementia show different patterns of cognitive and neural decline relative to monolingual individuals. This work is funded by a predoctoral fellowship awarded to Ms. Grasso by the NIH and is a collaboration with Dr. Elizabeth Peña (UT Austin and University of California, Irvine) and Dr. Maria Luisa Gorno-Tempini (UCSF).
Dr. Henry has several forthcoming projects that seek to leverage additional imaging techniques to elucidate the neural mechanisms that support recovery of cognitive-communicative function in patients with aphasia. A MEG study with Dr. Paul Ferrari (UT Austin) aims to discover the neural basis for improved speech fluency and intelligibility brought about by repeated practice with an audiovisual model. A new collaboration with Dr. Bharath Chandrasekaran (UT Austin) will use EEG to identify neural signatures of normal and abnormal language processing using naturalistic tasks such as listening to an audiobook. This approach may be used to identify early markers of degenerative conditions that affect the speech-language system as well as indicators of improved function resulting from treatment.
Dr. Henry has expertise in the neuroscience of communication and in the neural substrates of speech and language processing in health and disease. She has experience with structural and functional MR analysis, with a focus on clinical populations, including stroke and dementia syndromes. She is well versed in the design and implementation of intervention trials and in analysis techniques for small sample sizes.
Dr. Henry is interested in potential collaborations with researchers investigating language and cognition as well as motor control in healthy aging and disease. Of particular interest are those with expertise in complementary imaging methodologies that may help to contextualize behavioral changes brought about by treatment. Additionally, Dr. Henry is interested in collaborators who bring expertise in technological applications that may be used as tools to improve cognitive-linguistic function.
For more information, visit her web page: https://csd.utexas.edu/research/aphasia-research-treatment-lab