Computer engineering, which is a bridge between electrical and software engineering, is the field that Christine Tardif, PhD, started out in before specializing in brain imaging. Dr. Tardif spoke about her multidisciplinary days, the opportunities of medical imaging, and the people she collaborates with at The Neuro.
How did you choose your field?
I did my bachelor's in computer engineering at McGill University, where I specialized in signal processing, analysis and interpretation techniques. I didn't know at first if I wanted to pursue a career in industry or research. Doctors I knew told me about engineers who worked on imaging components in hospitals, so that’s when I decided to branch out and focus my career on medical imaging. It's really amazing to apply everything I learned during my undergraduate degree and other studies to the medical field!
What is a typical work day like for you?
My days are quite varied. I would say my most stimulating moments are when I work with other people.
I co-lead the Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) team at the McConnell Brain Imaging Centre at The Neuro. The whole team regularly meets to talk about upcoming studies or new technologies that we want to deploy for researchers working on imaging research projects. We may also do troubleshooting exercises related to problems with anomaly diagnosis to figure out how we can improve the quality of images. Working with this team is really exciting.
I also run my research lab, and what I missed most during the pandemic was working alongside my students: seeing them in the lab, looking at data together, listening to their innovative ideas, and discussing their application with them.
Then there is the multidisciplinary aspect to my work. My lab has a very diverse team of engineers, physicists, and people with a background in physiology and neuroscience. It's really great to work with them and have multidisciplinary projects with other teams at The Neuro.
What do you research?
My lab’s main focus is the study and imaging of myelin. Myelin is the sheath that electrically insulates neuronal axons, or the extensions of the nerve cell, to facilitate conduction and activity in neural networks. New MRI techniques are being developed to map myelin in the brain. I began studying myelin and its role in multiple sclerosis during my PhD program. Now my lab studies myelin function in neurodevelopmental disorders and in healthy subjects.
We now know that myelin has plasticity, and we want to better understand how this plasticity functions in healthy subjects and in different pathologies as well as its relationship with behaviour or task learning.
Do you work with other researchers and clinicians at The Neuro?
I collaborate with multiple teams at The Neuro, some of which are more clinically focused while others carry out basic research. For example, I am working on an imaging project with Timothy Kennedy whose goal is to create a biophysical model of the MRI signal that is validated with histology (the study of the structure of biological tissues). I also work with Bratislav Misic on incorporating myelin maps into brain connectivity analyses.
On the patient side, I collaborate with the Azrieli Center for Autism Research (ACAR) at The Neuro. This project studies many families in Quebec who have a member on the autism spectrum. I work with ACAR to examine these individuals using our new ultra-high field 7-Tesla imaging system. What's interesting is how we’re implementing new protocols and working with clinical teams to try and improve the study participant experience.