Learning about magnetoencephalography at the University of Helsinki

Last autumn (Oct 2018), I had the great opportunity to spend 3 weeks at the cognitive brain research unit (CBRU), Helsinki University, working with Dr Alina Leminen. This was made possible through a LuCiD Travel Award, with the goals of: enhancing my research skills, receiving training on the magnetoencephalography (MEG) technique, and strengthening my research network.

The CBRU is a world leading centre in Cognitive Neuroscience with internationally renowned researchers studying brain plasticity and typical and atypical human perception, from foetal stages to late adulthood. During my PhD (back in 2013), I spent 4 months at the CBRU to collaborate with Dr Alina Leminen and Prof. Teija Kujala. I designed, conducted and collected data for a study investigating semantic processing and the development of selective attention in French-Finnish bilingual children. This experience was invaluable for my research development (working on new projects and in a different lab; and building a research network) and significantly enhanced my skills (using another EEG system for acquisition and analysis). I was warmly welcomed by all members of the CBRU who shared their knowledge and expertise.

Thanks to the generous LuCiD Travel Award, I was lucky to be able to return for a 3-week visit to further develop my research skills and receive training on MEG. Over the last decades, the MEG technique has been increasingly applied in Psychology to better understand the relationship between brain functions and behaviour. MEG provides high temporal (faster than fMRI) and spatial (better than EEG) resolution, allowing better neural localization of the brain response to stimuli, such as speech and language processing.

During my stay in CBRU, I attended the opening of the new BioMag Lab at the University Hospital, where cutting-edge neuroimaging techniques from Psychology were presented (e.g. MEG, TMS, EEG). At this event I met many researchers with whom I exchanged ideas about my current and future research projects and discussed the possibility of future collaborations to study language development in newborns and young children.

MEG studies with adults and children are known to include numerous trials and last approximately one hour. As a consequence, participants might inadvertently change their head or body position while executing the task which generates many artefacts or noisy data. To overcome this issue, Dr Leminen’s PhD student, Tatu Huovilainen, with the help of Dr Eino Partanen, developed a new way to decrease head and neck movements by designing and 3D-printing a hat to better position the head inside the machine. I had the chance to assist in piloting one of his PhD studies on reading skills using this methodology, see the data processing, and learn more about the language-related components.

I additionally participated in the lab meeting of Prof. Kimmo Alho’s team to learn about their ongoing research. Prof. Alho is internationally known for his work on auditory processing and attention development using fMRI at the University Hospital. I was welcomed to observe one of the fMRI studies conducted by Patrik Wikman, on selective attention during speech processing. Patrik kindly shared his knowledge and went through the critical points related to applying fMRI in Cognitive Neuroscience.

My long discussions with Dr Leminen and Dr Lilli Kimppa were very constructive and contributed to a better understanding of how MEG could be applied in my future studies. Dr Leminen and I are also looking into funding opportunities for future collaboration, and I was repeatedly reminded that I am very welcome to collaborate and conduct studies using the CBRU facilities.

I am very grateful to the LuCiD and its travel award scheme for this invaluable and constructive experience. I highly recommend all eligible LuCiD members to apply for this funding, as it allows you to gain research knowledge and experience in another environment, and also to enlarge and strengthen your research network. Thanks must also go to all my CBRU hosts, including Alina, Lilli, Victoria, Tatu, Suzanne, and many others for making my stay in Helsinki so enjoyable.


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