Author Archives: silversantestudy

Neuroimaging Researcher / Engineer Opportunity in the Team “Multimodal Neuroimaging of Brain Diseases” (Dr. Gael Chételat , Inserm U1237, Caen, France)

Duration: 2 years

* Starting date: May 2021

* Research unit: Inserm U1237, Caen, France (Pr. Denis Vivien)

* Research team: Multimodal Neuroimaging of Brain Diseases (Dr. Gael Chételat)

* Salary: according to experience       

Job Description: The successful candidate will be in charge of implementing open access neuroimaging databases and of developing new (pre)processing methods for neuroimaging data.

More specifically, the candidate will have to:

  • Set open access neuroimaging databases related to aging and neurodegenerative disease (e.g., ADNI, DIAN)
  • Develop innovative processing and analyses techniques for several neuroimaging modalities (e.g., fMRI, DKI, ASL, PET imaging).
  • Create quality control procedures for different imaging modalities (e.g., structural and functional MRI, PET)
  • Guide and advise users from the lab regarding methods and results interpretation
  • Disseminate and promote results in the form of technical reports, publications or oral presentations

The candidate will participate in publications related to his activity as a co-author. He will also be entrusted with a research project for which he will have to ensure the publication(s) as first author.

The lab: The Multimodal Neuroimaging of Brain Diseases team, headed by Dr. Gael Chételat, is organized around four main areas of interest: i) improving neuroimaging biomarkers for early Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis; ii) further the understanding of the physiopathological mechanisms of Alzheimer’s disease with multimodal neuroimaging, iii) investigating the relationships between lifestyle factors and brain biomarkers and iv) developing non-pharmacological interventions to promote mental health and wellbeing in ageing population. The team is currently involved in 2 large projects: Multimodality Imaging of Early-stage Alzheimer’s Disease (IMAP+) and Silver Santé Study, a European study granted by the European Commission (H2020, 2015-PHC-22) investigating the effects of two 18-month interventions (English versus mental training) on behavioral and biological markers of ageing and Alzheimer’s disease.

The team is affiliated to the Inserm U1237 (Pr. Denis Vivien) and is based at the Cyceron center, a structure that provides a stimulating work environment as it groups several research units and several research tools, such as a cyclotron, 2 PET-CT and 2 MRI. The lab is located in the beautiful city of Caen (Normandy, France) which is 2 hours by train from Paris and 1 hour by plane from Lyon (where the team has close collaborators); it is also just 10 minutes away from the beaches. The city is within driving distance of popular Normandy attractions including Bayeux and its famous tapestry, the D-Day Landing Beaches, and the picturesque Pays d’Auge, home of cider and cheese.

Requirements for applicants: Master or PhD Degree in neuroscience, engineering, or equivalent, and experience of at least 2 years in a neuroimaging research group are essential. The applicant should also have a solid background in coding, especially in Matlab and/or Python. Strong expertise with one specific neuroimaging modality (e.g., fMRI, DTI, ASL) and/or previous research experience in aging or neurodegenerative disease field are mandatory.

Questions regarding the position can be directed to Robin de Flores (deflores@cyceron.fr).

To apply: Send a CV, motivation letter and contact details of two academic referees to Robin de Flores (deflores@cyceron.fr)

Silver Santé students showcase their research at ‘mini’ consortium meeting

Students and post-docs working on the Silver Santé Study will be sharing and showcasing their work with peers and supervisors at a ‘mini’ project consortium meeting.

The online meeting, organized by the participants themselves, will include more than 20 presentations from students working in France, the UK, Belgium, Switzerland, and Germany covering an exciting and varied array of topics grouped around the project’s work packages.

PhD student, Francesca Felisatti, of the University of Caen, who is one of the organisers, said: “The ‘mini meeting’ promises to be the ideal platform to share ongoing developments with peers and supervisors alike, and is a great opportunity to promote the work we are each doing.”

Co-organiser, Tim Whitfield, a PhD student at UCL, said: “I am thrilled that the Medit-Ageing students have been given the opportunity to conduct our own conference. The scientific standard of student and post-doc projects is very high, and I wait with excitement for their presentations at the forthcoming event!”

The one-day meeting will be followed by the project’s final full consortium meeting in June.

Some of the postgraduate students who will be taking part in the ‘mini’ consortium meeting.

What is meditation?

By Martine Batchelor

(first posted 12th December 2019)

Meditation – along with language-learning and health education – is one of the mental training activities being trialled in the Silver Santé Study to assess its impact on mental health and well-being in the ageing population.

Although meditation – or mindfulness – is now commonly referred to in everyday life, there are many misconceptions about what it is. One, for example, is that meditation is about clearing the mind of all thought. Another is that meditation is a religious practice. While most religions involved some kind of contemplative study, like meditation, the meditation studied in the Silver Santé Study is entirely secular and, while based on Buddhist meditation, it has been adapted especially for potential use for medical purposes.

Rather than clearing the mind of thought, meditation is about cultivating certain qualities that we already have but to a greater degree. One of the bases of meditation is to cultivate focusing, concentration, and anchoring and this means that you are given something to focus on – such as the breath, the body, a sound, or a question.

Should your mind wander and start thinking about other things, you simply bring your thoughts back to what you were focusing on and you do this with a positive, friendly attitude. Each time your thoughts wander, you bring them back to what you were focusing on. So both elements are important – the technique, i.e. the focusing, and the attitude with which you do it, i.e. in a friendly way. Once you cultivate the focusing element, it helps you to become calmer.

It’s also important to remember that the aim is not to become the greatest meditator, it’s about helping us become calmer, clearer and more compassionate in daily life.

There are different types of meditation. Mindfulness, for example, is where you focus on something like the breath, the body, a sound, feeling or mental state and then you keep coming back to it in a friendly way. With that technique, it’s about being aware of the change of the breath, the change of sensation, etc. There are other types of meditation too – some focus on a question, while others, like loving kindness meditation, focus on being compassionate to oneself and to others. There are types that are reflective and others that focus on repeating phrases.

Meditation is suitable for most people to some degree.  It’s just like sport – it’s generally good for most people but not suitable for everyone. There are very few negative effects associated with meditation as long as it’s in light conditions. For example, a 7-day silent retreat is not suitable for everyone, but a weekly two-hour mindfulness session every week should be fine for most people.

My advice to anyone wanting to try out meditation would be to find a local course to get some guidance, and then to practice it regularly to see some benefit. Some people find that meditating 10 minutes each day works for them but others meditate for longer – whatever suits you best. It’s also worth mentioning that you don’t need to be sitting down to meditate, you can do it walking, standing, sitting or lying down.

Watch Martine explain meditation in our short video below:

Older adults with lower blood serotonin levels show more emotional BRain reactivity when they face other people’s suffering, new Silver Santé research reveals

New research published by Silver Santé Study researchers has revealed that older people who have lower blood serotonin levels have more activity in brain regions associated with emotional reactivity, when they face the suffering of others.

The research, published in Biological Psychology, measured the blood serotonin levels of healthy older adults and then measured brain activity while they watched videos of people suffering. The 135 participants watched a series of documentary video clips showing people suffering both emotionally and physically while inside an fMRI scanner so that the immediate effects could be measured.

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter present in both brain and blood which helps regulate mental well-being and other important physiological functions. Low levels of serotonin are associated with depression. The full details of the study can be viewed here.

Yacila Deza-Araujo, of the University of Geneva, who led the research, said: “These results are very exciting because they show that lower levels of circulating serotonin could also indicate a decreased availability of this neurotransmitter on a brain level. This would explain the higher response of emotion-related brain regions when participants see videos of people suffering”.

 “This is interesting because to date, the relationship between serotonin and emotional brain activity was only investigated with pharmacological interventions and mostly, in younger adults. Our study shows, for the first time, the same association in older adults which is particularly important to understand the higher predisposition to depression and anxiety in this population”.

The Silver Santé Study is a 5-year EU-funded study investigating the mental health and well-being of Europe’s ageing population. It is also investigating whether mental training techniques, such as learning a language or practicing meditation, can help safeguard mental health in later life. To find out more about the study click here.

The fMRI scanner at Cyceron, France, where the Age Well trial participants were scanned.

Learning a second language and its impact on brain health and well-being in seniors

By Caitlin Ware

(posted 1st October 2019)

The adult brain can change and grow as a result of learning[1], even in later life.[2]

It is thought that learning a second language could be a very promising and dynamic way of improving cognitive capacities and maintaining the brain’s functions, as both structural and functional neurological differences have been observed in bilinguals compared to people who only speak one language (monolinguals).

These brain differences may determine how the brain ages and compensates for pathology.[3] What is more, bilingualism and multilingualism have been shown to contribute to a delay in the onset of dementia in seniors.[4]

Although remaining a subject of hot debate[5], research has shown that bilingualism seems to strengthen certain cognitive processes, constituting a ‘bilingual advantage.’ Compared to monolinguals, bilinguals have demonstrated higher scores on cognitive tests, especially those measuring attention and mental control.

Some neuroanatomical and functional changes have been associated with foreign language learning, such as the growth of certain brain regions, and a better connectivity between them. This is promising in the context of ageing, as the brain tends to lose its volume and connectivity with time.[6]

Although research in language learning has focused mainly on children and young adults, a few studies have concentrated on the effects of second language learning in seniors. Not only has it been shown to be feasible and beneficial from a subjective point of view[7], research has shown that it can strengthen cognitive functioning, as well as psychological well-being and quality of life.[8] Moreover, a recent study has evidenced increased connectivity between certain brain regions of Italian older adults learning English after only four months of training.[9] Indeed, learning a foreign language is an intense intellectual activity, which involves memory and attention.

Learning a second language can also engage communication, travel, and involvement in the community, providing seniors with an outlet to improve their overall well-being and sense of confidence. More studies are needed involving larger groups and a longitudinal design and the Silver Santé study is the first to carry out such research. With a language-learning intervention of 18 months, Silver Santé is the longest ever study of its kind and it will be fascinating to see what impact the course has on the mental health and well-being of its participants.

Sources: 

[1]Lövdén, M., Wenger, E., Mårtensson, J., Lindenberger, U., Bäckman, L. (2013) Structural brain plasticity in adult learning and development. Neuroscience Biobehavioral Review,37, 2296-310. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2013.02.014.

[2] Pauwels, L., Chalavi, S., Swinnen, S. (2018) Aging and Brain plasticity. Aging (Albany) 10(8), 1789–1790. doi: 10.18632/aging.101514

[3] Bialystok, E., Abutalebi, J., Bak, T.H., Burke, D.M., Kroll, J.F., (2016) Aging in two languages: Implications for Public Health. Ageing Res Rev, 27, 56–60. doi:10.1016/j.arr.2016.03.003.

[4] Perani, D., Abutalebi, J. (2015) Bilingualism, Dementia, Cognitive and Neural Reserve. Curr Opin Neurol, 28, 618–625. DOI:10.1097/

[5] García-Pentón, L., Fernández García, Y., Costello, B., Andoni Duñabeitia, J., Carreiras, M. (2016) The neuroanatomy of bilingualism: how to turn a hazy view into the full picture. Language, Cognition and Neuroscience, 31:3, 303-327. DOI: 10.1080/23273798.2015.1068944

[6] Siman-Tov, T., Bosak, N., Sprecher, E., Paz, R., Eran, A., Aharon-Peretz, J., Kahn, I. (2017) Early Age-Related Functional Connectivity Decline in High-Order Cognitive Networks. Front. Aging Neurosci. 8:330, 1-17. doi: 10.3389/fnagi.2016.00330

Could brain training keep our cells younger?

By Dr Perla Kaliman

(posted 27th June 2019)

In an experiment involving identical twins, who would age faster: the twin who is placed in a high-speed rocket and travels near the speed of light or the twin who remains earthbound?

While studying this dilemma known as “the twin paradox,” Albert Einstein guessed that the date of birth is not enough to know the biological age of a person. In 1918, within the framework of his theory of relativity, Einstein showed that when returning from his trip to the stars, the galactic twin would be younger than his sibling born on the same date and with the same DNA. What was unknown 100 years ago is that we don’t need a trip on a space shuttle to modulate our cell ageing. Current research shows that less than 25% of the variations in human longevity can be attributed to our inherited genetic information. It is now clear that the quality of ageing and longevity result from powerful interactions between genes, environment, lifestyle and experiences.

Objectively we can talk about chronological age and biological age. The chronological age is calculated from our date of birth, while the biological age can be measured on our chromosomes. And they do not always match. There are repetitive DNA structures at the end of the chromosomes, called telomeres, whose function is to protect the genetic material. They fulfill a similar task to that of the ends of the shoe laces, that is, to prevent the DNA from fraying and damaging. With age, as part of a natural process, the telomeres get shorter. When the telomeres are already too short to efficiently carry out their protective functions, the cells lose their capacity for division, a phenomenon that increases the risk of most chronic age-related diseases i.e. cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome. Conversely, numerous studies indicate that longer telomeres predict long-term health. It has also been proven that the cells of centenarian people who are in good health have telomere lengths that correspond to younger chronological ages.

Recent research suggests that lifestyle-related factors influence the rate of biological ageing (i.e. nutrition, stress, quality of sleep, physical activity, education, social environment). In the Silver Santé Study, part of our work aims to identify lifestyle factors that may influence the rate of biological ageing. In order to do this, we collected blood samples from all the participants at the beginning of the Age-Well clinical trial and we are now obtaining a second sample from all of them at the end of mental training interventions. Our hypothesis is that brain training activities such as meditation and foreign language-learning may help to slow down the pace of the biological ageing. We very much look forward to learning and sharing the results of our study that may contribute to revealing the molecular mechanisms of long-term brain training on healthy ageing and may help in the design of preventive strategies for age-related chronic diseases.

Edelweiss Touron victorious in Great Silver Santé Study Thesis Challenge!

PhD student, Edelweiss Touron, was crowned the winner of the project’s Great Silver Santé Study Thesis Challenge after impressing the judges with her clear, concise and well delivered thesis entitled ‘Is the cup half full or half empty?’.

Edelweiss, of the University of Caen, was one of 11 students from France, Belgium, and the UK working on the project to enter the competition. She impressed the judges with her presentation on the association of subclinical depressive symptoms with brain changes in healthy adults for its use of analogies, clear scientific explanation, and excellent presentation skills.  

Harriet Demnitz-King, of UCL, was awarded second place for her presentation on the association between repetitive negative thinking and markers of Alzheimer’s disease. In third place was Francesca Felisatti, of the University of Caen for her presentation entitled ‘All roads lead to Rome’ for which she also won the ‘audience choice’ award, voted on by all participants in the consortium meeting.  

The judges – Eric Salmon of the University of Liège, Rhonda Smith of Minerva UK, and Olga Klimecki of University of Geneva – praised the students for the excellent standard of the presentations overall and said it was extremely difficult to choose the winner.

To video Edelweiss’s winning presentation click on the image below.

Silver Santé Study partners share progress in online annual meeting

Partners from the 11 institutions in six countries that make up the Silver Santé Study consortium gathered online to share progress in their research as part of the project’s annual meeting.

The Zoom meeting, which took place in October, involved more than 40 people from the UK, Spain, Switzerland, Belgium, Germany and France – all updating each other on the latest advances in their research and support work towards the goal of learning about how to safeguard mental health and well-being in the ageing population. The meeting also included an ‘elevator-pitch’ workshop devised and hosted by the project’s communications partner, Minerva UK.

Dr Géraldine Poisnel, of the coordinating team at Inserm, France, who organised the meeting, said: “This was our first online consortium meeting, due to the Covid restrictions, but it was wonderful to get all the partners and their teams together to discuss progress, make decisions as a group and make plans for the final stages of this important project.”

The project, which is due to end on December 31st 2020, has applied to the EC for a six-month extension due to the delays caused by the Covid pandemic and is awaiting news of the decision.

The Silver Santé Study consortium partners taking part in their annual meeting online in October 2020.

Final round of Age Well follow-up visits planned to start in January 2021

Wave 1 participants in our Age Well clinical trial are being invited to attend Cyceron for their fourth and final round of follow-up tests in January 2021.

The 42 participants, all aged 65+, have kindly agreed to take part in this additional round of tests to further strengthen validation of the trial by studying whether the effects of mental training techniques persist over time.

The group, all based in Caen, France, have been helping our expert researchers learn more about mental health & well-being in the ageing population. After taking part in a series of baseline tests, each volunteer was randomly assigned to one of three groups – an English language course, a meditation course, or a control group in which participants made no changes to their lifestyle.

Project Coordinator Dr Gaël Chételat, of Cyceron, says: “The safety and well-being or all our participants is our primary concern, which is why the follow-up visits were postponed until January.

“We will be constantly monitoring the situation and the visits will only go ahead if we are confident we can properly safeguard the health the volunteers who have kindly devoted so much of their time to helping us learn more about mental health in the ageing population.”

Blood tests, neuroimaging scans and questionnaires have been used by our expert researchers to assess the impact of the mental training techniques on the brain. The volunteers’ lifestyle habits – such as sleep, diet, physical exercise and emotions – have also been monitored.

Final follow-up tests for participants in waves 2 and 3 are expected to take place in September 2021 and February 2022, respectively.

An AGE WELL participant takes part in a newuroimagin test at Cyceron, France.

Project featured in series of France 3 ‘ageing well’ documentaries

Participants and researchers from our AGE WELL clinical trial in Caen, France, have appeared in a series of films aired on France 3 in Normandy.

The series, which focused on ‘ageing well’, included five programmes – each five minutes long – which featured interviews with AGE WELL participants, details of the tests they are undergoing, and interviews with project researchers including Dr Gaël Chételat, Dr Géraldine Poisnel, and Dr Géraldine Rauchs at Cyceron in Caen.

To view the French language films, visit the France 3 page about the programme here.

Volunteers taking part in an English class as part of the Age Well trial

« Older Entries