Chaleece Sandberg

2014 New Century Scholars Research Grant

A Triumphant Start

There was more than one reason for Chaleece Sandberg’s feeling of “triumph” (that’s her word) when she was awarded an ASHFoundation 2014 New Century Scholars Research Grant. On a personal level, she was now part of a group of earlier recipients she highly respected and she felt “ecstatic” (Sandberg’s word again) to have joined their ranks. Professionally, the effect of receiving the grant was perhaps even more profound. “Without the funding I could not have carried on my work,” says Sandberg. “It really jump-started my career as an independent researcher.”

Sandberg’s work focuses on studying brain changes after language treatment for people with aphasia using functional magnetic imaging (fMRI). These individuals complete an fMRI scan before and after participating in 10 weeks of word-finding therapy. During each fMRI scan, participants perform a language task related to the therapy. Neural activation patterns prior to therapy are compared to activation patterns after therapy. Any changes are compared to the behavioral outcomes of therapy to determine which changes are adaptive and which are maladaptive. However, these changes should be framed within the concept of healthy aging.

The ASHFoundation grant allowed Sandberg to collect brain data on a healthy control group who completed two fMRI scans, 10 weeks apart, performing the same task during fMRI as individuals with aphasia. The understanding of what neural changes occur naturally over time in a healthy population is essential to the determination of treatment-related changes for people with aphasia. “Because fMRI research is extremely expensive,” says Sandberg, “the ASHFoundation funding was pivotal to providing data on the healthy control group.”

In addition, Sandberg’s study yielded information that she is now using as pilot data for an R21 Early Career Award Grant from the National Institutes of Health. In the proposed project, techniques that are currently underutilized in aphasiology—graph theory and resting-state fMRI—will be used to help uncover neural network dynamics related to treatment outcomes.

The funding that began her successful initial work also helped Sandberg gain recognition in her academic department—she’s currently an assistant professor in the Department of Communication Science and Disorders at Pennsylvania State University—and nationally with colleagues engaged in research on similar topics.

And, more, the work she performed on her project attracted many students to join Sandberg’s laboratory, thus providing them with challenging learning opportunities and helping her keep her research program moving forward while she juggled the inevitable demands of a tenure-track position. And, more yet, the data Sandberg was able to collect because of the ASHFoundation funding have led to article submissions to the American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology and Frontiers, as well as to numerous conference presentations.

So all of this makes Sandberg’s feeling of triumph at receiving her ASHFoundation honor a lot more reasonable to the rest of us. Indeed, who can blame her? Considering what the award has already achieved and promises to continue to achieve—for Sandberg and for every one of us who benefits from her work—we should probably all join in her triumph.

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