Brain imaging specialist Dr Fatima Nasrallah hopes to develop tests that can better diagnose concussion.

Fatima Nasrallah researches concussion and how it affects the brain

Dr Nasrallah joined QBI in October 2015. Her research seeks to understand how head injury affects brain function, both at a cellular level as well as in the long-term.

“I am particularly interested in understanding how a head injury can increase the risk of neurodegeneration, ‘fast-forwarding’ the onset of dementias including Alzheimer’s disease,” Dr Nasrallah says.

Concussion, a temporary condition estimated to affect 42 million people worldwide each year, is a particular interest.

Concussion results when a whiplash effect or direct impact causes the brain to move and bump against the skull.

It is a mild form of traumatic brain injury, causing only functional changes in the brain, and cannot be diagnosed by neuroimaging tests like MRI and CT scans, which only detect changes to brain structure.

Repeated head injuries, even when mild, have been linked to increased risk for irreversible conditions including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

Dr Nasrallah’s research uses state-of-the-art imaging techniques to detect how injury affects the brain at a functional and molecular level, as well as how it changes the way the brain consumes energy.

She believes that a better understanding of the effects of concussion and other traumatic brain injuries would enable targeted treatments to be developed.

Diagnostic biomarkers to test for concussion

“Using biomarkers and imaging, we hope to develop an early diagnostic test that would enable preventative measures to be put in place,” Dr Nasrallah says.

“If early measures are taken, then irreversible damage can be avoided.”

Another aim of Dr Nasrallah’s work is to bridge the gap between preclinical and clinical research.

“Although there have been major advances in the understanding of how the brain works at the cellular level, there has been a tremendous lag in translating this knowledge to understanding human behaviour and brain diseases,” she says.

At QBI, she is working with both patients and in mouse models, using complementary biomarkers that can be used in both the laboratory and the clinic.

Dr Nasrallah was previously a Senior Fellow at the Clinical Imaging Research Centre in Singapore, where she led several clinical research studies on brain cancer, dementia, autism, stroke, and brain injury.