NIH grant will allow researchers to further study language disorder

July 23, 2018

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A $300,000 three-year grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will allow Penn State researchers to further study a language disorder experienced by one-third of stroke patients in the United States. 

Researchers will study patients with aphasia, a language disorder commonly found in stroke patients, who specifically have anomia, or trouble finding everyday words. Anomia is a defining characteristic of aphasia; it is the most prevalent and longest lasting, according to Chaleece Sandberg, assistant professor of communication sciences and disorders at Penn State and principal investigator of the study.

Researchers will use a functional MRI to look at patients’ language and other cognitive brain networks before and after a 10-week word-finding therapy. Two initial fMRIs, before the therapy, will provide researchers with baseline information and help show any changes in brain functioning following the therapy.

In addition to the language network, researchers will look at a variety of networks in the brain. Researchers expect to see changes in the language network, because the therapy specifically targets language, but they also hypothesize they will see changes in other networks.

“Even though the therapy isn’t meant to improve overall cognition, it could,” Sandberg said. “The fact that you’re using attention, memory and problem solving skills during therapy, it seems like those areas could start to get better, too, because you’re also exercising them.”

Penn State researchers working with Sandberg include, Frank Hillary, co-investigator and associate professor of psychology; Peter Molenaar, professor of human development; Dr. David Good, professor of neurology, Penn State College of Medicine (Hershey); and Dr. Jian-li Wang, associate professor of radiology, Penn State College of Medicine (Hershey).

The study was funded by an R21 Early Career Award issued to Sandberg by the National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.

A previous Penn State study indicated that aphasia may not be solely a language issue as traditionally believed. The findings, which appeared in the February edition of Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, added to a growing body of research highlighting other cognitive functions affected by aphasia, and indicated that the consequences of brain damage in aphasia patients may be more extensive than originally thought.

Aphasia is a communication disorder caused by damage to parts of the brain that control language, according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. The most common cause of aphasia is stroke. Patients diagnosed with aphasia can have difficulty speaking and understanding spoken words as well as difficulty reading and writing.

  • Sandberg-NIH

    Chaleece Sandberg, assistant professor of communication sciences and disorders at Penn State, is principal investigator of the study.

    IMAGE: Penn State

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated July 24, 2018