From San Antonio To Vancouver: Going to The OHBM Conference

Jodie Gray, Eithan Kotkowski and I traveled to Vancouver, Canada to present our research at the Organization for Human Brain Mapping Conference (OHBM). The conference was held from June 25 to 29.

OHBM is an international conference that brings together interdisciplinary scientists involved in neuroimaging to discover — as its name suggests — the organization of the human brain… is there a question more exciting??

A popular subject of investigation at OHBM is termed ‘connectomics.’ This is the study of how brain regions are inter-related to perform perceptual, motoric, cognitive and affective functions, and how disease/treatment alters these connections.

Many different modalities are used in this research. Those used most include functional and structural MRI, diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), and electroencephalography (EEG).

Every day of OHBM hosted a keynote address, multiple symposia focused on niche areas of research (e.g. Lifespan Development, Perception & Attention, etc.), as well as a two-hour poster session. Each of us presented a poster and connected with scientists doing similar research or those genuinely curious in what we were investigating.

Jodie, Eithan, and I are under the primary mentorship of Dr. Peter Fox at the Research Imaging Institute at UT Health San Antonio, and are specifically involved in disease-related neuroimaging meta-analysis projects utilizing the database/software suite developed in our lab (www.brainmap.org). Essentially, we collect 3-D brain coordinates from published literature and perform more traditional meta-analyses as well as investigative data-mining.

I thought one keynote presentation was especially inspiring. Dr. Karla Miller, a professor and Associate Director at the Oxford Centre for Functional MRI of the Brain (FMRIB), spoke about the training of a “new kind of scientist.” In the field of neuroimaging, she explained, a good scientist is proficient in statistics, programming, physics, biological systems, and more.

I found her challenge to approach different domains exciting, and it reassured me that our jobs as scientists won’t be scooped by artificial intelligence — not first, at least. She spoke about her own research, and the importance of bridging scales and technologies.

The difference scales of neuroimaging (e.g. individual neurons to multi-regional networks) can sometimes feel like entirely different scientific endeavors. Dr. Miller spoke about how the next generation of MRI methods will enable us to face this challenge. She also explained her work in relating MRI tools to microscopy techniques to better model white matter characteristics.

The conference was special and we enjoyed our time in Vancouver. We were introduced to scientists from across the world, ate sushi, visited Stanley Park, and enjoyed the cool, Pacific breeze — an ethereal experience coming from Texas.

We are grateful to both the Julio Palmaz Travel Award and the Student Service Fee Committee for providing travel assistance and enabling this trip.

Tom Vanasse is a student in the Radiological Sciences Ph.D. program in the Diagnostic Imaging Physics track. The “Beyond The Bench” series features articles written by students and postdoctoral fellows at the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at The University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio.

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