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Kansas State University research center partners with CHCS


A Kansas State University research center has partnered with Community HealthCare System based in Onaga, Kan., to provide MRI scans that will support research projects related to changes in the brain.

The Cognitive & Neurobiological Approaches to Plasticity Center, or CNAP, is a National Institutes of Health-funded Center of Biomedical Research Excellence. The center is housed in the K-State Department of Psychological Sciences and has received more than $21 million in two rounds of funding to study changes that occur in the brain as a function of growth, aging, or experience. These changes are referred to as plasticity, and studying them helps researchers learn how to develop treatments for degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, counteract age-related cognitive decline, improve self-control, and much more.

“The projects our research teams are pursuing all relate to brain processes, brain health, and plasticity. Approaches vary widely, but we all have the goal of better understanding brain changes,” said Kimberly Kirkpatrick, Kansas State University distinguished professor of psychological sciences and CNAP director.

One area of CNAP research involves study of how our brains process what we see and hear to help us better understand auditory learning, cope with hearing loss, and think about our own thinking. These studies involve detection of electrical activity in the brain through electroencephalography, or EEG.

MRI scans provide images that validate EEG results and help researchers map the brains of study participants. That’s where Community HealthCare System, or CHCS, comes in. CHCS will provide MRI scans to support research studies for the next several years starting in spring 2023.

In 2022, CHCS purchased a new, state-of-the-art MRI machine for Onaga Community Hospital. The FUJIFILM Echelon Oval boasts optimal image quality as well as the widest wide-bore opening in the industry for patient comfort. CHCS CEO Todd Willert said the machine has been a great addition to the hospital’s capabilities.

“The new MRI elevated our ability to deliver state-of-the-art imaging and care for our rural patients, and we’ve been pleased with how the machine has performed,” Willert said.

Willert also noted that he’s excited for CHCS to be involved in CNAP research projects. 

“We are accustomed to using our imaging equipment to diagnose and treat patients, but being involved in research projects to help us push the frontiers of understanding and help develop new treatments is different for us. Our associates are happy to have the chance to assist and look forward to learning more as K-State researchers share their results in the coming years,” Willert said.

Matthew Wisniewski, assistant professor of psychological sciences, and Alexandria Zakrzewski, research assistant professor of psychological sciences, are the two researchers who will be working closely with CHCS. They previously had to send study participants farther away for MRI scans, so they are pleased to have a closer option.

“EEG is great at telling us when brain activity is occurring. MRI is great at telling us where. With CHCS's help, we can get the best of both worlds,” Wisniewski said.

Wisniewski and Zakrzewski are studying how ongoing brain activity relates to memory performance, and how training can modify brain activity and performance in parallel.  

CNAP researchers have already been highly successful in their efforts since the center was established in 2017. Researchers have produced more than 60 peer-reviewed publications and given 186 presentations at academic conferences, plus they have submitted 118 grant proposals and been awarded more than $10 million in additional funding.

“We have made great progress in building research infrastructure and a multidisciplinary team to pursue research, offer pilot grants, and mentor young researchers. We’re glad to add Community HealthCare System to our growing list of partners in our efforts,” Kirkpatrick said.

Learn more about the CNAP Center of Biomedical Research Excellence.

Learn more about Community HealthCare System or read about the CHCS MRI.


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