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UCI wins $2.4 million grant to study how brain understands language

Irvine, Calif., Dec. 20, 2005 -- A UC Irvine cognitive neuroscientist has been awarded a National Institutes of Health grant for $2.4 million over five years to unlock the secrets of how the brain translates sound waves into meaningful language.

Greg Hickok, professor of cognitive sciences, will lead a team of scientists from UCI, UC San Diego, the University of Southern California and the University of Iowa in this research that may one day help those with language disorders caused by stroke, Alzheimer's disease and autism. The grant is a renewal from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), a component of the NIH, and will allow Hickok to continue the work he has done in this field since 1999.

"When we listen to speech, what hits our ears is nothing more than tiny fluctuations in air pressure, or sound waves," Hickok said. "The ability of humans to turn these sound waves into meaningful language is a complex task, one that we have not managed to replicate yet with computer voice recognition systems. This project will help us better understand how brain circuits can do what computers circuits so far cannot."

It is estimated that acquired language disorders, also known as aphasia, affect approximately 1 million people in the U.S., with 80,000 new cases diagnosed each year. Aphasia generally results from a stroke. Language ability is also often affected in those who suffer from neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and from disorders such as autism. Understanding the basic circuitry of how speech is processed could help in treating these disorders.

Following on his previous work, Hickok, along with his colleagues, will use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) technology, which measures blood flow and allows scientists to map which brain regions become active during a task involving speech or language use. The team plans to conduct 200 fMRIs on healthy subjects, primarily at UCI.'"/>

Contact: Farnaz Khadem
fkhadem@uci.edu
949-824-5484
University of California - Irvine
20-Dec-2005


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