An interview with Research Challenge 2017 winner, Naheem Bashir

We’re very proud to announce the winner of our 2017 BrainBox Initiative Research Challenge, Naheem Bashir of UCL. Rogue Resolutions will be supporting his award winning study, ‘using fNIRS and EEG to explore the neural basis of stuttering’ which will assist in his completion of his PhD in 2018. Naheem is currently using fNIRS to examine the variability of stuttering when speaking to another person and also uses tDCS to enhance existing speech therapy methods for people who stutter.

Hi Naheem, congratulations on this prestigious award! Tell us about your competition winning research study and why you chose this particular area.
I am a person who stutters and I research the brain basis of stuttering and it’s treatment. Stuttering is characterised by involuntary syllable repetitions, prolongations and blocks which disrupt the fluency of speech. For people who stutter, this disruption to speech fluency impacts negatively on quality of life and has adverse effects on social and emotional functioning. Stuttering is a unique speech disorder in that speech dysfluency and difficulty varies across situations and contexts. For example, people who stutter often show greater dysfluency when speaking in social situations (e.g. face to face with a stranger or speaking on the phone) compared to speaking on their own. Despite anecdotal evidence for situational and contextual variability in developmental stuttering, no study to-date has compared neural activity across situations and contexts which elicit differing levels of stuttering. We will conduct an exploratory pilot study, aimed at utilising NIRS+EEG brain imaging during speaking conditions known to elicit differing levels of stuttering in people who stutter.

Understanding the mechanisms behind fluent and dysfluent speech production will enable greater insight into stuttering and fluent speech production, and provide consequent targets for brain stimulation studies which seek to reduce levels of stuttering (as in my current tDCS work).

What inspired you to enter the BrainBox Initiative Research Challenge?
I loved the quality of the work that was being done by the previous winners, Siddharth Kohli and Helen Nuttall, and their testimonies regarding how helpful Rogue Resolutions were with their research. For any young scientist, the support and opportunities Rogue Resolutions provide to winners of the competition are invaluable. The BrainBox Initiative Research Challenge went beyond traditional financial awards and offered equipment as well as expertise. This is something invaluable to a young scientist wishing to pursue complex, cutting-edge research. The BrainBox Initiative prize is particularly important in that it provides equipment for doing necessary preliminary work as research councils have little flexibility to provide such resources when there are no ‘guaranteed’ outcomes.

What does it mean to you to be a winner of the BrainBox Initiative Research Challenge?
It means a great deal to me to have won the Research Challenge. The area of stuttering is something I’m very passionate about, and it is also personal to me, so I’m very grateful to Rogue Resolutions for selecting me as a winner, enabling me to continue, and expand on, the research I am passionate about. I also appreciate the opportunity to present at the BrainBox Initiative conference (Autumn 2018) and at an international conference.

How will the Research Challenge help you with your future work?
The Research Challenge will help enormously with my future work. First of all, with the equipment and support from Rogue Resolutions, we will be able to conduct our first multi-modal imaging study with people who stutter, particularly focused on variability of stuttering. This will allow greater insight into mechanisms of stuttering, which we will build upon with future work using brain stimulation.

What point are you currently at in the project?
We have background skills in EEG, fMRI and fNIRS design and tDCS stimulation. The lab I work in has considerable expertise working with people who stutter. We are currently working on a design for this project that will allow us to collect fNIRS (cortical) and frequency-following response simultaneously. We need to speak to the scientists and engineers working with Rogue Resolutions concerning whether their equipment can be used for measuring the frequency-following response.

What is planned for the next few weeks?
We hope to continue to work on the design of the project; determine our requirements for the equipment and plan longer-term studies which will build on this work.

Naheem is also very active in raising awareness of stammering. Click here for his latest article for the Times Higher Education and here to watch the video of a stammering awareness raising event he recently held at UCL.