Grantee: Robert J. Ferguson

Robert J. Ferguson

Robert J. Ferguson, Ph.D.

Clinical Health Psychologist and Cancer Survivorship Researcher
  • University of Pittsburgh

Dr. Ferguson is a licensed clinician psychologist and Assistant Professor of Medicine with the Division of Hematology/Oncology at the University of Pittsburgh and University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) Hillman Cancer Center. His clinical and research interests are in cancer survivorship, and cognitive-behavioral treatment of cancer-related cognitive impairment (CRCI).

Dr. Ferguson's work began in this area when he was completing his post-doctoral fellowship in Behavioral Medicine at Dartmouth Medical School, where he had developed a cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) targeting persistent cognitive, emotional, and physical symptoms associated with mild-traumatic brain injury (MTBI). This early work was spawned from graduate training and interest in translating social-cognitive theories of symptom appraisal and chronic illness coping into practical evidence-based treatment. His long collaboration with Dr. Brenna McDonald began at this time, when both were part of a research team investigating the late effects of chemotherapy on cognition. Modifying and retargeting CBT for MTBI to the growing problem of CRCI among cancer survivors was a logical step.

Memory and Attention Adaptation Training (MAAT) was developed and evaluated in small trials with R03, R21, and private foundation funding. It was found to be generally effective and could be delivered through telehealth services. For the current R01, MAAT is being evaluated in a large, two-site randomized trial with multiple clinicians using telehealth technology. Dr. Ferguson is once again collaborating with Dr. McDonald (mPI, now at Indiana University), with her expertise in neuroimaging. The randomized trial will evaluate objective and self-reported neurocognitive outcomes and evaluate pre-to-post treatment change in brain activation patterns to help advance our understanding of treatment-related improvements. If successful, findings can help improve clinical care for numerous cancer survivors, given that MAAT is a manualized CBT, can be disseminated widely among licensed psychologists or other qualified clinicians, and can enhance access to survivorship care through telehealth delivery.

In early surveys of the cognitive rehabilitation outcomes literature, I recognized that focusing solely on enhancing memory performance as assessed by neurocognitive testing was incomplete; cognitive abilities - e.g., memory, attention, emotion regulation - exist to perform valued activities in daily life. Using effective behavior change methods to enhance performance in daily activity was key to quality of life and functional improvement, regardless of the cognitive change one experiences after cancer.”

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