Grantee: Brenna C. McDonald

Brenna C. McDonald

Brenna C. McDonald, Psy.D., M.B.A., A.B.P.P.

Clinical Researcher
  • Indiana University School of Medicine

Dr. McDonald is a board-certified clinical neuropsychologist with expertise in advanced neuroimaging. For the past 20 years she has been investigating cognitive and brain changes associated with breast cancer and its treatment, particularly chemotherapy. She embarked on this line of research during her postdoctoral fellowship in Neuropsychology and Neuroimaging at Dartmouth Medical School. As a postdoctoral fellow and subsequently as a junior faculty member, she was a co-investigator on NCI-funded studies examining cognitive and neuroimaging sequelae of chemotherapy in breast cancer patients, which was her first exposure to the cognitive challenges experienced by cancer survivors. Advancing understanding of the brain basis for these concerns and how to help improve them has become the major focus of her work. With a broad group of collaborators, she has been focused on understanding cognitive changes in cancer patients across the lifespan, from childhood through older adulthood, and their underlying neural correlates, by applying structural and functional MRI (fMRI) and positron emission tomography (PET). Her longstanding collaboration with mPI Dr. Robert Ferguson also began at Dartmouth, and has endured through both of their moves to other institutions (Dr. McDonald is now at Indiana University School of Medicine, Dr. Ferguson is now at the University of Pittsburgh). Combining Dr. Ferguson's expertise in cognitive-behavioral therapy with Dr. McDonald's focus in cognition and neuroimaging has proved a truly synergistic approach, and over time they have conducted several pilot studies examining the effectiveness of cognitive-behavioral therapy approaches to improve cognitive changes after chemotherapy. This work has culminated in the current R01, which is a large, randomized, controlled, multi-center trial to test the effectiveness of their Memory and Attention Adaptation Training (MAAT) approach. If proven effective, this effort could mark a major advance in clinical care for cancer survivors, as the treatment is manualized, readily available to psychologists and other therapists, and deliverable remotely via web conference. In addition, they hope that the neuroimaging component of the study will advance understanding of the brain mechanism of treatment-related improvement and help guide future advances in treatment.

I was first directly exposed to fMRI maps when interviewing for fellowships over 20 years ago. Actually seeing activation of the motor strip exactly where it "should" be in the brain gave me my first real glimpse of the potential power of the technology for exploring brain-behavior relationships and understanding cognitive dysfunction, which has been the focus of my research for the past two decades.”

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