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Evaluation of a socio-emotional short training programme on the modulation of brain connectivity patterns in ex-combatants of the Colombian armed conflict

This project focuses on the identification of neurocognitive markers who can predict success of psychosocial intervention programmes aimed at ex-combatants with socio-emotional impairments. Previous work suggests that a chronic exposure to combat experience is associated to the expression of atypical neurocognitive functions during emotional processing. However, there is a lack of evidence on the role of psychosocial interventions on the rehabilitation of such functions in these populations. This research visit is aimed at developing novel methods for the analysis of behavioural and brain functional data collected from ex-combatants before and after psychosocial interventions. This exchange agenda will allow us to raise awareness about the impact of effective programmes which promote neurocognitive emotional functioning in ex-combatants and to deliver models to assess such an impact. Such evidence will inform government and scientific bodies towards the reconstruction of social tissues via translational mental health approaches in communities such as Colombia which are affected by a chronic war conflict.

Tackling cultural barriers in cognitive assessment and early detection of dementias

The Cognitive and Behavioural Neurology Group at the University of São Paulo and the Human Cognitive Neuroscience Group of the University of Edinburgh have recently set up a collaboration to investigate culturally unbiased cognitive markers for Alzheimer´s disease (AD). This is a key topic worldwide and particularly in Latin America countries where most of the cognitive assessment tools used have been adapted from devolved countries and may not reflect the actual cognitive challenges that local cultures pose on cognition. Towards this aim, we are planning to investigate, a novel cognitive task which has proved sensitive and specific to AD and not significantly influenced by demographic features of the affected populations. This test, namely Short-Term Memory Binding, assesses the ability to process, on a temporary basis, a combination of features such as shape and colours. Of note, this test has already been used in Latin American populations (Colombia) with demographic characteristic that are similar to those seen in Brazil (e.g., level of education, occupation, life expectancy). These earlier studies confirmed the validity of this test to assess such populations and to compare performance across cultures and nations. By means of the present collaboration we are planning to fully incorporate this methodology into our existing assessment protocols to maximise the strength of our diagnostic procedures. This will require a thorough exchange program between the involved parts wherein existing experience in the field will be shared.

A Novel Cognitive Biomarker To Screen For Dementia Across Cultures And Countries

Recent guidelines stress on the importance of providing biological evidence of underlying pathology in order to increase confidence and accuracy in the preclinical diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) (Dubois et al. 2016). These guidelines however, neglect important challenges which are driven by social, cultural and economic inequalities across countries with different socio-demographic structures (Parra 2013; 2014). Cognitive approaches to aid in the preclinical diagnosis of AD are also missing. In line with an open call from Alzheimer's Disease International, this research agenda aims to provide solutions that can be readily introduced to screen for dementia in the population worldwide (Alzheimer's Disease International 2009). To this aim, we propose a new methodological framework called Cognitive Biomarkers for Dementia. The programme comprises three major aims. First, we will introduce a novel cognitive marker to clinical settings for longitudinal assessment of patients with different risk levels of dementia. Second, we will provide biomarker data which link cognitive decline, as assessed by the Short-Term Memory Binding Test (STMBT), to underlying brain pathology. Finally, we will provide a novel Cognitive Biomarker which can be used to screen for dementia worldwide. Below we provide feasibility evidence for each of these aims.