Brain-Imaging Study Explores Possibility of Restoring Empathy in Persons with FTD



Scientists at Western University’s Robarts Research Institute are using brain scanning systems on persons diagnosed with FTD to develop therapies that may restore their empathy.  

Dr. Elizabeth Finger, associate professor at the university’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry and a neurologist at St. Josephs Health Care London, partnered with scientists at Robarts to find ways to restore the feelings of empathy that individuals living with FTD lose as the disease progresses. The team used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans to examine the brain’s limbic system.  

According to an article published by Western University, the researchers hope that boosting the activity in the limbic brain region of persons diagnosed with FTD might lead to therapies that will treat the deficits in emotional processing and empathy.  

Robert Bartha, who worked alongside Finger at Robarts, said in the article that this kind of high-field imaging can show “really subtle changes in brain function.” 

“The changes found in this study help us to understand how the disease is affecting the brain and gives us new ideas about how and when to treat these patients,” Bartha added.  

The study showed that two potential therapies — one pharmacologic and one behavioral intervention — ramped up the bold signal in the limbic region of the FTD patients.  

“It was really exciting for us because it was the first evidence that even in patients that have reasonably advanced neurodegeneration due to FTD, we could see that there still was some capacity in this region,” Finger said in the article. Additionally, she noted that it raises the possibility that continuing the pharmacologic or behavioral intervention in a more sustained way might translate into improvement in their real-world emotional processing and their real-world empathy and emotional experience.” 

Finger will take part in AFTD’s 2021 Education Conference, happening online on May 13 and 14. She will lead a discussion entitled “Emerging FTD Clinical Trials” on May 13. For more information on this year’s conference, click here 

Read the full article here