Dr. Zahra Moussavi announced as a Tier I Canada Research Chair in Biomedical Engineering

28 November 2022

World Class Alzheimer’s Research Continues at Riverview

A picture of Dr. Zahra Moussavi
Dr. Zahra Moussavi

Until 18 months ago, Al-Walid was a lecturer at Tufts University School of Medicine, in Massachusetts, but had to leave his beloved profession at age 84 as he began to have memory problems. He had such a passion for his career and students that his work felt more like a hobby, which he loved.
Al-Walid, a medical doctor and Ph.D., and his wife Ava immediately knew they wanted to find help to prevent further memory loss, and prioritized searching for options for assistance that would help Al-Walid regain his memory, or at the very least, keep it from getting worse. Ava began searching at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for options for clinical trials and tACS sessions, and eventually connected with Dr. Moussavi, a professor at the University of Manitoba and research affiliate of Riverview Health Centre (RHC).

Ava and Al-Walid were immediately taken with Dr. Moussavi’s compassion and desire to help during their initial online chat. Subsequently, they quickly planned to spend four weeks in Winnipeg for Al-Walid to be enrolled in her clinical trial and receive daily treatment sessions. At three weeks into their visit, Ava and Al-Walid are already very pleased with how things are going and are so thankful for the gracious nature of Dr. Moussavi and all of her research staff at RHC.

In this clinical trial that Al-Walid and many others have been enrolled, participants receive two sessions per day (5 days/week), each half an hour, of electrical brain stimulation with a device called Transcranial Alternating Current Stimulation or tACS for short, simultaneously during some cognitive exercises through an app called Mind Triggers (an app developed by Dr. Moussavi). tACS applies a very low-intensity sinusoidal electrical current to the brain through electrodes on the scalp. The technique is believed to boost the neural activity whilst the brain is active, which can be used to improve brain’s cognitive functions. This technique, especially when paired with cognitive exercises, is believed to lead to the brain’s plasticity and improved cognition; that is what Dr. Moussavi’s pilot studies show and led to the current large clinical trial investigating the efficacy of tACS paired with cognitive exercises.

Dr. Moussavi took great care in explaining the options and possibilities, so Al-Walid and Ava were comfortable in understanding the treatment protocol. While connected to tACS to stimulate his brain, a tutor also works with Al-Walid to perform cognitive exercises of the Mind Triggers app. These games consist of various short-term memory and spatial challenges.
Last week, Dr. Zahra Moussavi was announced as a Tier I Canada Research Chair in Biomedical Engineering. Dr. Moussavi’s breadth of contributions in her field is a legacy to honour and reflect upon. Her current research program focuses on the goal of better diagnosing the onset of neurodegenerative dementia and its specific types such as Alzheimer’s. It also centers on offering personalized optimized treatments for affected individuals, while monitoring their cognitive changes longitudinally. “Her research in the early detection and treatment of dementia is groundbreaking and brings hope to many,” said Dr. Mario Pinto, vice-president (research and international) University of Manitoba. This announcement will help to fund Dr. Moussavi’s groundbreaking research for the next seven years.

In just three weeks, Ava has noticed Al-Walid regaining his independence and taking interest in things that he had lost interest in over the past year and a half. He has a renewed desire to use his computer and happily takes part in online cognitive games and staying up to date with current news and events. A detailed follow up schedule is also being created where Dr. Moussavi can regularly assess Al-Walid’s cognitive status when he and Ava return home to Boston.

While they obviously hope this clinical trial can help Al-Walid, both Ava and Al-Walid are very excited and proud to be a part of Dr. Moussavi’s trials, and hope that this research will help many others in the future.

Congratulations Dr. Moussavi on her prestigious appointment as a Tier 1 Canada Research Chair. To read more about this honour, please click here.

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