Tamara Vanderwal

Assistant Professor

Research Interests

Functional Neuroimaging
child psychiatric disorders
depression in youth

Relevant Thesis-Based Degree Programs

Research Options

I am available and interested in collaborations (e.g. clusters, grants).
I am interested in and conduct interdisciplinary research.
I am interested in working with undergraduate students on research projects.

Research Methodology

3T fMRI scanner
naturalistic stimuli
Functional Connectivity


Master's students
Doctoral students
Postdoctoral Fellows
  • Movie + OCD = This project creates and tests a novel movie stimulus designed specifically to evoke symptoms of OCD while participants are undergoing fMRI scans. The goal is to identify a disorder-specific network that has clinical relevance at the individual-subject level.  Analytic approaches will include machine-based learning algorithmes (e.g., Connectome Predictive Modeling) and intersubject approaches.  The longterm goal is to turn this project into a multi-site pediatric study.
  • Precision mapping in female youth with depression = This project aims to track brain changes as individual female patiens with depression get better. We use movie-fMRI to collect long brain scans longitudinally in youth. We also aim to better understand the effects of normally occuring hormonal changes on functional brain organization in these indiviuals.  
  • Pediatric hyperalignment = Brain scans from different participants in a study are usually lined up with each other according to structural landmarks. This project tests a different approach that uses brain function to line up children's brains. We think this may provide a powerful methodological improvement that would improve signal-to-noise ratios in pediatric fMRI studies.  
  • Movie + Neurosurgery = This project is at the early beginning stage. We want to make a movie that evokes multiple language functions at the individual patient level. The goal is to enable precise mapping of crucial language networks in even very young pediatric patients who have to undergo neurosurgery.  
I support public scholarship, e.g. through the Public Scholars Initiative, and am available to supervise students and Postdocs interested in collaborating with external partners as part of their research.
I support experiential learning experiences, such as internships and work placements, for my graduate students and Postdocs.
I am open to hosting Visiting International Research Students (non-degree, up to 12 months).
I am interested in supervising students to conduct interdisciplinary research.

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Movie-fMRI as an acquisition state for functional connectivity-based precision psychiatry (2023)

The field of precision psychiatry aims to use biologically based data from individual subjects to shift the focus from the group to the individual for diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis of psychiatric disorders. The type of data used for precision psychiatry can vary, and the use of functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) data has shown promising results. However, this endeavor has been limited by the quality of fMRI data. Specifically, for fMRI data to be clinically useful, measures of functional connectivity (FC) must be reliable across repeated scans and sensitive to individual differences in connectivity. Further, we must be able to collect fMRI scans of sufficient length. Ongoing attempts to address these issues focus on methodological techniques, but acquisition state has been overlooked. fMRI scans for precision psychiatry are almost exclusively collected during resting-state, when participants lay in the scanner and stare at a fixation cross. The rapidly advancing field of movie-fMRI offers important advantages for data quality and quantity: it improves reliability, facilitates the detection of individual differences, and enables the collection of longer scans with better head motion and arousal. These advantages have been demonstrated at the whole-brain level, but it is not clear whether they apply to brain regions specifically important in psychiatry. Hence, we hypothesized that, relative to resting-state, movie-fMRI would improve data quality in three psychiatrically relevant brain regions: the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, the left temporoparietal junction (TPJ), and the right pre-supplementary motor area. To test this hypothesis, we compared three measures of test-retest reliability (Intraclass Correlation Coefficient, Image Intraclass Correlation Coefficient, Discriminability) and one proxy for the sensitivity to individual difference (a test-retest identification algorithm) between movie-watching and resting-state data from the open-source Human Connectome Project data. We also investigated the effect of increasing data amount on these measures. We found that movies were either equal, or superior, to rest across all measures in the three brain regions of interest, with the TPJ showing the most benefit from movies. Overall, our results suggest that movie-fMRI appears to be a good candidate acquisition state to optimize FC quality and quantity for precision psychiatry.

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BC Children's Hospital

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