06 Jun 2020
Participants in CHeBA’s Sydney Centenarian Study represent a significant piece of the puzzle when it comes to understanding successful ageing. Dr Jiyang Jiang hopes to utilise MRI imaging to account for differences in cognition found in healthy centenarians to develop early intervention targets for individuals at risk for cognitive decline. The wealth of hidden information found in MRI scans drew Dr Jiang to the field of neuroimaging.
How did you get into researching the ageing brain?
Following my completion of a Bachelor of Engineering in China, I came to Australia to study a Master of Professional Engineering. In 2010 I completed my studies and was really interested in applying my engineering and mathematical skills in the field of medicine. I contacted several supervisors and finally got an offer to be a Research Assistant in CHeBA’s Neuroimaging Group. Over the year that I was a Research Assistant I learnt some neuroimaging skills and managed some small neuroimaging datasets.
This particular area of research interested me as I could apply me engineering and mathematical skills to discover how the brain works. Following this experience, I went on to complete my PhD in Neuroimaging during 2013.
Did you experience a ‘defining moment’ which led you to this field?
The first time I attended the largest international neuroimaging conference was a defining moment for me. This was the Organisation for Human Brain Mapping’s annual meeting in Beijing, China in 2012. My supervisor kindly supported my attendance to this conference and introduced me to the field. I was fascinated by the amount of hidden information that can be extracted from a simple MRI image. By taking advantage of mathematical tools such as statistics and biological engineering we can discover a lot about how the brain works, its response to stimuli, and how the brain is affected by disease i.e. the detrimental effects on brain structure and function and brain’s reaction to establish a compensation mechanism to maintain functioning. The assortment of potentials that MRIs can give us insight into drew me to the field.
Do you have any personal interests or activities which are protective behaviours against cognitive decline?
I like travelling and photography, especially landscape photography. I try to travel as often as possible; contrasting places and landscapes have always amazed me. I think developing a hobby outside of work makes life colourful and is a great way to maintain cognitive status.
What are you currently researching?
My focus is dual in nature, I am studying the brains of centenarians and conducting neuroimaging research. At CHeBA we have a very precious dataset of centenarians; we are actually one of the few centres acquiring MRI images of centenarians. Over 60% of individuals aged 90 and above have a diagnosis of dementia; those without this neurodegenerative disease form a perfect model for studying cognitively normal ageing. I am exploring the structural and functional characteristics associated with successful ageing in this group.
Simultaneously, we are exploring a novel data-driven research approach which considers differing brain imaging data types, which is the focus of my neuroimaging research. Typical neuroimaging studies will look at a single brain measure alongside other phenotypes such as age or gender. These studies fail to take into account how differing brain measures interact, so we hope that with this new approach we can locate interaction information hidden in the data. This is not achievable when we look at each brain imaging measures separately.
Why is your research important?
Neuroimaging gives us an opportunity to study human brain in vivo, tracking changes in the brain’s structure over time and take advantage of datasets where subtle effects can be identified using statistical tools. Through studying healthy older brains, we can identify early intervention targets for preventing further cognitive decline.
What do you love about working for CHeBA?
At CHeBA we have a group of really friendly people. Our team is truly multidisciplinary, with experts in a variety of fields for example, genetics, proteomics, neuropsychology and statistics. This allows us to not only study the brain from different perspectives, but also combine different fields for multidisciplinary studies.
What is the ultimate hope you have for your research?
Studying cognitively normal ageing sets up a norm. We can then compare individual brain status with the norm to identify risks. My ultimate aim is to achieve the early detection of neurodegenerative diseases through using MRI data, and to provide advice for early interventional targets.
This interview was undertaken during the COVID-19 self-isolation period. Dr Jiang found having online chats with friends while having a coffee helped him feel relaxed and socially connected.
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Dr Jiyang Jiang is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow within CHeBA’s Neuroimaging Group. He completed a Bachelor of Engineering at Beijing Information Sciences and Technology University China, a Master of Professional Engineering at the University of Sydney, and his PhD in Psychiatry at the University of New South Wales. His broader research interests include neuroimaging studies of the ageing brain, and development of novel methods for neuroimaging data post-processing. Dr Jiang has a personal interest in landscape photography which he combines with his love of travel. Dr Jiang's research is supported by the J Holden Family Foundation.