The candidate Dr. Helen Weng is seeking a K08 Mentored Clinical Scientist Research Career Development Award for her career goal to gain mentorship and training to develop the EMBODY Task, a more objective and precise functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) measure of meditation practice that uses multivariate brain pattern classification methods. Dr. Weng earned her doctorate in clinical psychology researching the neural and behavioral effects of compassion meditation, and completed a NCCIH-funded postdoctoral fellowship at the UCSF Osher Center for Integrative Medicine (OCIM), where she studied mindful body awareness. Dr. Weng is rigorously trained in fMRI to study contemplative neuroscience; however, she is primarily trained in using standard univariate analyses, which average across spatial and temporal information.
She aims to develop novel fMRI tasks that use multivariate methods which optimize spatial and temporal data to study brain states trained by meditation. Obtaining this K08 would support Dr. Weng?s long-term career goal of becoming an independent investigator who studies the therapeutic benefits of meditation. Dr. Weng?s career development plan includes training in the cognitive neuroscience of attention, fMRI pattern classification, and clinical trial methods to study meditation training. Dr. Weng has assembled a stellar mentoring team including top experts in cognitive neuroscience (Primary sponsor: Dr. Adam Gazzaley, UCSF Neuroscape Director; Dr. Melina Uncapher, Dr. David Ziegler), mindfulness-based interventions (Co-Sponsor: Dr. Rick Hecht, UCSF OCIM Research Director), and pattern classification (Dr. Bin YU, UC Berkeley). Dr. Weng?s training environment is at UCSF, a top NIH-funded research institution, and she will have access to state-of-the-art neuroimaging facilities at the Neuroscape Center and resources from OCIM, a flagship center for studying meditation. She will be mentored by her team, and complete trainings and coursework. Dr. Weng?s K08 research proposal aims to develop the EMBODY Task, a novel fMRI task that uses brain pattern classification to decode the focus of attention during a period of breath meditation. This task will more accurately measure mental states during meditation by using precise information from individuals? unique neural signatures. The task will distinguish neural patterns associated with attention (breath attention) and inattention (mind wandering, self-referential processing) to the breath, and use these patterns to identify fluctuating brain states during ten minutes of breath meditation. This will produce objective brain-derived metrics of breath attention such as mean duration of attention, which can then be used to objectively assess outcomes of meditation training. She will develop and validate this task within experienced meditators and meditation novices. Dr. Weng will use this data to prepare future R01 proposals to adapt the EMBODY Task to measure other meditation skills, and use these measures to test how various meditation skills learned from MBIs are mechanistically related to decreased symptoms in clinical populations.

Public Health Relevance

Chronic pain is an enormous public health issue that affects 100 million Americans and costs more than $600 billion per year in treatments and lost productivity; and major depression is one of the most common mental disorders in the United States (6.7% prevalence in 2014) and carries the heaviest burden of disability among mental disorders (World Health Organization, 2010). Mindfulness-Based Interventions improve symptoms in chronic pain and depression; however, we do not currently understand what meditation skills learned from mindfulness-based interventions improve symptoms in chronic pain and depression, and this information is needed to improve treatment. This proposal will develop a more accurate and precise measure of meditation practice using brain imaging methods (functional MRI) that can identify attention states during meditation practice.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Center for Complementary & Alternative Medicine (NCCAM)
Clinical Investigator Award (CIA) (K08)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZAT1)
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Sabri, Merav
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University of California San Francisco
Internal Medicine/Medicine
Schools of Medicine
San Francisco
United States
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Weng, Helen Y; Lapate, Regina C; Stodola, Diane E et al. (2018) Visual Attention to Suffering After Compassion Training Is Associated With Decreased Amygdala Responses. Front Psychol 9:771