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Friends of BrainHealth Help Launch a Career in Science

Erin Venza MS, CCC-SLP and Kate Juett showing Friends of BrainHealth Distinguished Scientist Award in 2017, made possible by the Sapphire Foundation.

“Chemo brain” is a common term used by cancer patients to describe the persistent cognitive complaints they experience after chemotherapy treatment. Patients frequently describe feeling they are in a “mental fog” with symptoms including memory lapses and difficulty concentrating. They also find familiar tasks take more time and mental effort. The exact cause is unknown and the severity, as well as consistency of complaints, varies; however, these distressing changes can hinder people from returning to school, work, and perhaps most importantly, their pre-chemo selves. Currently, no there are no clinical services available to help these individuals improve, or regain their prior level of function. However, recent studies suggest that cognitive training may be a way to achieve this goal.Erin’s study examines the effects of BrainHealth-developed Strategic Memory Advanced Reasoning Tactics (SMART™) training on the cognitive function and brain structure of breast cancer survivors (28-80 years old) who have noticed changes in thinking since undergoing treatment. Participants complete neurocognitive testing and imaging and then participate in weekly (virtual) training sessions for six weeks, followed by post-training neurocognitive testing and imaging.
The 2016 Friends of BrainHealth award recipients pictured starting from the left: Dr. Kihwan Han, Erin Venza, Dr. Wing Ting To and David Martinez.

2016 award winners received funding for independent research as they launched careers in brain health. L to R: Kihwan Han, Erin Venza, Wing Ting To, David Martinez.

Erin began this study – which is ongoing – as a Research Clinician, after she won the competitive Distinguished New Scientist Award in 2016 that provided funding from Friends of BrainHealth supporters Kate and the late Dana Juett. She has since expanded her research at the Center, where she is now Head of Clinical Operations and a lead coach with The BrainHealth Project.Cancer survivorship clinics such as the Mayo Clinic advertise equipping survivors with a healthy living plan to address exercise, fatigue and diet, but no there is no mention of cognition. Ultimately, Erin hopes findings from this study will help expand how survivorship groups address this critical gap to better support survivors.

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