Marcia Rodriguez, a speech-language pathologist (SLP) and researcher, has partnered with Dr. Adam Jacks as a research assistant in the Division of Speech and Hearing Sciences to study aphasia and targeted brain stimulation. Rodriguez, who has worked as an SLP for more than 35 years, most recently found herself working at WakeMed Outpatient Rehabilitation with people who face stroke and brain injury. During a research participant recruitment visit at WakeMed, Rodriguez heard about Jacks' work studying aphasia and brain stimulation and wanted to learn more about his research study.
The study, funded by Soterix Medical, Inc., will grant more than $330,000 to determine the effects of targeted brain stimulation paired with behavioral treatment for naming impairment in adults with aphasia. Several universities, including UNC-Chapel Hill, the University of South Carolina, the City College of New York and Georgetown University, are working on the three-year study.
Rodriguez is responsible for recruitment, collecting data, testing, and in-home brain stimulation. The in-home portion requires participants to have transcranial direct current brain stimulation every day for three weeks; pre and post-testing also occurs. Jacks and his team are working to determine if people carry over long-term benefits after brain stimulation.
"It's fascinating for me to see people four weeks post treatment and hypothesize if they had the stimulation or are in the sham group," Rodriguez said. The double-blind study theorizes that people who receive the stimulation will carry over long-term benefits.
The potential benefits of the stimulation, which uses transcranial high-definition direct electric current to target language areas in the brain, have been demonstrated in small pilot studies for motor rehabilitation after stroke and for the treatment of aphasia after stroke.
"I've come from the hospital to get in the academic mode," Rodriguez said. "In the hospital, you make quick decisions and have to work on your toes. It has been a lot of fun working here, because I'm able to think things out a little bit more."
Rodriguez, who has previously co-published research, has studied stroke and aspiration pneumonia. She hopes to continue research at the university level and perhaps work in a clinical setting with undergraduate and graduate students.
"The students I've worked with, it's almost an eye-opener for them," Rodriguez said. "They have a narrow idea of the spectrum that a speech-language pathologist works on out in the field; it's exciting for me to watch these students grow."
"I just like lifting people up and watching them make progress," she said. "I'm such a positive person, and I just love my career."