Amnestic Mild Cognitive Impairment

Genevieve Groult, from the School of Psychology, is pursuing research about the application of graph theory to detect brain function impairment in humans for her Master of Science.

"For most of my life I have had exposure to medical environments, resulting in my admiration for the clinical staff and a passion for the medical field. I always knew I wanted to work within a clinical environment, but it was not until I enrolled in Psychology that I uncovered my specific interest in the human brain. I am fascinated by the research being conducted globally exploring neuroscience and neurology/neuropsychology, which ultimately led to my pursuit of a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology. I hope to be able to work with patients and participants in both a clinical and research setting once I have completed my qualifications.

"My current research involves comparing the brains of healthy individuals with the brains of people who have been diagnosed with amnestic Mild Cognitive Impairment (aMCI: an impairment of brain function that can progress into Dementia).

"We used Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) brain scans to obtain functional and structural images of the brain for each participant. We then implemented graph theoretical techniques to this information to obtain differences in functional connectivity between the healthy and aMCI participant groups.

"We also obtained each participant's neuropsychological data, which provides an indication of their current cognitive ability and areas of potential strengths that can be utilised in rehabilitation. The purpose of this research is to assess whether the application of graph theory to fMRI imaging may be used as a predictive tool for the detection of aMCI in humans, and a potential source for targeted rehabilitation.

"My participant data originates from a longitudinal study currently being conducted by Brain Research New Zealand’s Dementia Prevention Research Clinic, where I am a Research Assistant. I am also a research assistant for Māori Clinical Neuropsychologist Professor Makarena Dudley.

"My time is generally split between my clinical studies and writing my masters thesis. Initially, my thesis was my primary focus for the majority of each day outside of my personal activities, so I would try to ensure I kept active by participating in outdoor adventures and hosting wellbeing events with the Postgraduate Students'
Association (PGSA) at least twice per week.

"In this later stage of writing my thesis, I try to spend at least five hours per day conducting literary research and writing. This involves visiting libraries and exploring scientific and medical journals. I also have a fortnightly meeting with my awesome Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory I can attend for social and research purposes. 

"I also attend classes for the clinical programme each week, and spend an additional five to ten hours a day completing research and coursework for this. The coursework has various components which involve researching in the form of conducting neuropsychological testing, and completing clinical case studies.

"Each month I volunteer as a research assistant at the Centre for Advanced MRI, where I engage with the DPRC’s research participants and assist them throughout the fMRI scanning procedure. This involves meeting with them before the scan takes
place and running them through the scanning procedure protocol. I answer any questions they may have and complete documentation before they enter the scanner. I observe the participant throughout the scanning session, and then gathering post-scan information before they leave.

"This is an invaluable opportunity for me to meet the DRC participants and allows me to truly appreciate the time they give and things they do for our research.

"What I enjoy most about my research is the chance to work with both the amazing participants who give up their time and bodies for our research, and my amazing staff and colleagues here at the University of Auckland.

I am able to wake up every morning feeling excited and honoured about being supervised and taught by brilliant people, and knowing I have this opportunity of an incredible education.

Genevieve Groult

"The best thing is that I can then apply this education towards spending the rest of my life helping others and doing something I love and enjoy.

"I have been continually amazed at how research and technology is progressing on a global scale. It is very exciting to consistently find new tools, measures and theory being applied in the medical and professional world. I don’t think I had any idea of what I was actually getting into when stepping into this line of research, but the more I learn the more I want to continue learning!

"Any time I have been faced with a challenge in terms of my research, or faced personal situations that would naturally affect one’s study, I was able to talk directly with staff. My supervisor and other academic staff I have come to know through my other University work have been so supportive.I came into this field of research as a student with no prior research and no formal training in computer programming and knowledge desirable in the field of neuroscience. As a consequence, I was met with the harsh reality of trying to apply participant data to very new software, developed for a rather unexplored theoretical model. This resulted in spending months trialling software which seemed promising, but was ultimately insufficient for our needs. Fortunately, we were able to get an expert in this type of theory over to New Zealand who was able to provide the software needed for my research, and I have had the pleasure of working with them ever since.

"My main questions that have arisen throughout these past two years are mainly focused around cognitive neuroscience and the impact of research findings on biological, psychological, and sociological levels. Although we have amazing technology and individuals committed to researching the brain, medicine, and how humans function socially, I wonder if we will ever come close to truly understanding how the brain actually works. Over the past few years alone leaps and bounds have been made in the medical and scientific fields, and yet I feel we are continually being stumped by the human brain. Although this is an overwhelming thought, the research is continually exciting and the future holds promise.

"All I could hope for is to have some sort of contribution towards helping reduce the suffering of humans with neurological disease, and also the dream that my research may somehow contribute to the Dementia Research Clinic’s research in the detection of a biomarker for Dementia, and the positive repercussions that could arise consequently.

"I am currently the Student Engagement Vice President for the University of Auckland’s Postgraduate Students' Association, and  have held an executive role within the PGSA for three years. Throughout this time I have had the pleasure of engaging with the Vice-Chancellor, Dean of Graduate Studies, staff from the School of Graduate Studies, and Campus Life, sitting on the Student Consultative Group, working with the Exposure team to host the University’s yearly Exposure event, hosting large events for postgraduate students that benefit their wellbeing, and connecting students to their faculty and departmental staff/services, and their peers.

"I have also collaborated with the Deans and Student Engagement staff from several faculties including Science, FMHS, Engineering, and Business, during my development of several faculty branches of the PGSA/PG Committees within the Faculty Associations. I have also sat on the Faculty of Science Postgraduate Student-Staff
Consultative-Committee, Psychology Student-Staff Consultative-Committee, and Psychology Postgraduate Student-Staff Consultative-Committee as a postgraduate student representative, where we work together around school and departmental initiatives and discussion. Finally I have also sat as a student representative
on a Faculty of Science Student-Staff working group with the Associate Dean, Student Experience Adviser, Buddy programme representative and Science Students' Association President to develop positive implementations for the faculty at both an undergraduate and postgraduate scale.

"Overall, these collaborations have each contributed to my work in supporting the postgraduate community’s wellbeing, ability to work with others at many levels in a collaborative environment, and growing my skill set. I believe this is all applicable to my research and future career as being a clinician, I will need to be able to work
with all kinds of people, and may need to be able to think outside of the box and help with initiatives. I have also honed my capacity for multi-tasking and achieved far more than what is typical of what I guess ‘normal student life’ looks like. I will be able to leave University feeling that I have contributed outside of my own research, for the wellbeing of those to come after.

"I would have to say one of my favourite things about studying at the Faculty of Science is that no matter what discipline we students are studying, we all have the opportunity to collaborate together as peers and with our staff. We have a stunning work space/study space and so many amazing opportunities to get involved with research all the time.

"DO NOT be afraid to reach out and accept help. This is not a weakness. Get as involved as you can and collaborate with as many people as you can because, we are fortunate to be surrounded by brilliant minds and opportunities that we don’t necessarily see at first.

"I am especially grateful to have been mentored by two amazing researchers, Professor Ian Kirk and Associate Professor Lynette Tippett, who were my supervisors for my masters thesis. I am also incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to sit on the various committees with staff, and have the opportunity to absorb their wisdom and develop new levels to my thinking."

Genevieve's supervisors are Professor Ian Kirk and Associate Professor Lynette Tippett from the School of Psychology.