Meet The Researcher

Emilie McKinnon

Medical University of South Carolina
Neurology and Radiology
Student

Hello!

Thank you for showing interest in my research! My name is Emilie McKinnon and I am a Biomedical Engineer, currently working on obtaining my PhD in Medical Imaging at the Medical University of South Carolina.

The primary focus of my PhD is studying the human brain after stroke using advanced diffusion MRI techniques. Tackling questions such as, how does the brain recover after stroke, which connections need to be maintained to preserve language function, etc...

What gets me up every morning to do research? Thinking about the patients I have met that suffered from a stroke, and how there is still so much we need to discover to provide these people with better care. Additionally, I love to solve difficult problems! The brain is one of the last remaining organs that raises so many unanswered questions. Many researchers, like myself, dedicate our time and knowledge to unraveling these mysteries one day at a time!

Previous Projects


Project Image

Aphasia, or language impairment permanently affects one third of patients surviving a stroke in the left hemisphere.  Speech therapy can be effective to improve communication for some patients, but unfortunately, not everyone responds well to treatment and to date little is known about what drives rehabilitation success.  A popular hypothesis suggests that recovery-related neuroplasticity is associated with the strengthening or the re-establishment of structural connections between key related brain regions. In this study, we aimed to test this hypothesis by assessing the relationship between therapy-related improvements in naming errors and microstructural white matter fiber properties, using innovative assessments of mean kurtosis (MK), which is a novel and sensitive metric of microstructural complexity, measured longitudinally along white matter pathways associated with the dorsal and ventral stream for language processing.  Our results suggest that with therapy the center of the ILF becomes increasingly complex if less semantic errors are made. Contrarily, the SLF displays a more complex microstructure if more phonetic errors are made, possibly a reflection of a therapy related increase in speech production.  These results likely fit the dual stream model for language, as changes in the dorsal pathway (SLF) correlated with changes in articulation and changes in semantics reflected as microstructural changes in the ventral stream (ILF). I would love to present this abstract at the annual meeting of the society for the neurobiology of language. Upon finishing my first year as a PhD student, I am most eager to learn about the latest discoveries in the field and how I can integrate these in my own work. I still have a lot to learn about neuroscience, especially how it applies to language. Hence, I believe that attending SNL will be very fruitful for my professional advancement. During the last semester, I attended an 8 semester hour course on the fundamentals of neuroscience, providing me with the basis to understand the work presented at the conference. I am excited to start studying the neurobiology of language, and I believe that attending this meeting will significantly impact my work. The opportunity to share my work and meet with leaders in the field will be an excellent way to establish myself.Cerebrovascular accidents are the leading cause of disability in the United States. Aphasia, a deficiency in language processing, is common consequence of a dominant hemisphere stroke and often associated with significantly reduced quality of life. The symptoms of aphasia can vary across differentsubjects, including different degrees of difficulties in producing and understanding language. Treating patients with aphasia is complex and consists in multiple and intensive sessions of speech therapy. Unfortunately, not every patient responds well to therapy and to date little is known about what guides post-ischemic tissue remodeling, neuroplasticity, stroke and aphasia recovery. If we were able to better understand the mechanisms associated with recovery from cerebrovascular injury, this information could be used to improve patient counseling, guide treatments and improve therapy approaches.A popular hypothesis suggests that recovery-related neuroplasticity is associated with the strengthening or the re-establishment of structural connections between key related brain regions. We propose to use neuroimaging to assess the neuroplasticity of stroke recovery by studying structural brain changes induced by speech therapy, as well as by evaluating how spontaneous recovery and speech therapy are associated with the reorganization of neuronal networks. The significance of this project is twofold. First, the investigation of structural changes could provide new insights related to the neurobiological mechanisms associated with stroke recovery. Second, by investigating personalized patterns of tissue integrity, this research may lead to the development of markers for recovery potential after a cerebrovascular incident.