Eating Behavior

Development of new methodologies to study the neurocognitive basis of human eating behavior

The study of human eating behavior has historically relied on self-reported measures and the use of restrictive experimental settings that do not capture the complexity of food choices in their normal context — at home or a restaurant. 

We are developing a methodological system to simultaneously monitor neural, cognitive and behavioral measures during a meal in a semi-naturalistic setting by integrating electroencephalography and portable eye-tracking with behavioral and nutritional assessments. Potential applications include precision phenotyping of individuals and early evaluation of intervention efficacy.

Additionally, we have developed a programmable, computerized meal table that can sense and display information during the course of a meal. This novel tool fills a gap in eating behavior research as it allows experimental manipulation of the meal with unprecedented possibilities including real-time feedback and intra-meal neuropsychological testing. Outside of our focus on meal-based testing, our team has developed and implemented a battery of computerized tests to assess cognitive domains related to food. 

We are open to collaborations from academia, industry and technology opportunities to conduct studies related to this area. For more information please contact us

Clinical Trials

Application of noninvasive neuromodulation for obesity therapeutics

We conduct proof-of-concept clinical trials examining the use of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) in patients with obesity. The overall goal of these studies is to evaluate whether tDCS can help people lose weight more successfully, measured with a combination of factors that include appetite, eating behavior, neurocognitive performance and body weight. Following preliminary positive results for weight loss with anodal tDCS applied over the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex we have continued working to replicate and extend these findings. Interest in the use of tDCS in obesity research has grown substantially in recent years and, as a result, we have established a network of international collaborators to help accelerate knowledge acquisition and data collection in this field.

Our collaborations have recently resulted in the completion of two clinical trials: One to evaluate the efficacy of tDCS to facilitate weight loss and weight loss maintenance in obesity, and another to examine the effects of tDCS aimed at enhancing the excitability of the left prefrontal cortex in middle-aged women with excess body weight. Other ongoing studies are exploring new brain targets. We are also starting to study genetic influences in the response to tDCS and the application of new modalities of tDCS, such as high-definition tDCS and remotely supervised tDCS.

We are open to collaborate and help laboratories or clinics interested in the use of tDCS in obesity. Please contact us if you are interested. Our current collaborators include 15 researchers and clinicians from USA, Brazil, Spain and Taiwan.

Look AHEAD Extension trial

Dr. Alonso-Alonso is a Co-Investigator of the NIH-NIDDK Look AHEAD (Action for Health in Diabetes) Extension trial (LA-E), responsible for the BIDMC portion of the Boston site. He is also a member of the Look AHEAD Cognitive Interest Group. The Look AHEAD trial was a multi-center, randomized controlled trial, designed to determine whether an intensive lifestyle intervention leading to weight loss could reduce cardiovascular morbidity and mortality in overweight individuals with type 2 diabetes. The study began in 2001 and was stopped in September 2012. Although the study intervention did not produce beneficial effects on the primary and secondary outcomes related to cardiovascular disease, it did produce beneficial effects on a broad spectrum of health parameters during the period of the intervention. LA-E will examine whether the study intervention provided for 10 years during mid-life, has enduring benefits that persist beyond the period of the intervention for older individuals with diabetes. The primary aims of LA-E are to test legacy effects of the intervention on increased lifespan and reduced health care costs, while the secondary aim is to determine its effect on key dimensions of healthy aging.

Nutrition and Brain Health

We are interested in studying the effects of nutrients, functional foods and dietary supplements on brain and cognitive function, particularly in the domain of cognitive aging and obesity. Our team has expertise in the use of cutting-edge neuroscience methodologies such as functional magnetic resonance (fMRI), electroencephalogram (EEG), eye-tracking and functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS). We have recently completed a study evaluating neurocognitive effects of umami intake using a combination of these methods. We are open to collaborations from academia or industry opportunities to conduct studies in this area. For more information please contact us.

Collaborators

Drs. Marom Bikson, Abhishek Datta and Dennis Truong (CCNY, New York)

Drs. Marci Gluck and Jonathan Krakoff (NIDDK, Phoenix, Arizona)

Drs. Vivian Suen and Priscila Giacomo Fassini (USP, Ribeirao Preto, Brazil)

Drs. Carlos Amo and Pedro de la Villa (University of Alcala de Henares, Madrid, Spain)

Drs. Elena Munoz-Marron, Diego Redolar-Ripoll and Raquel Viejo-Sobera (Open University of Catalonia, Barcelona, Spain)

Dr. Egas Capparelli-Daquer (Rio de Janiero Sate University, Brazil)

Dr. Chi Tang (Boston Medical Center)

Dr. Jeffrey Liou (Taipei Medical University, Taiwan)

Dr. Shahid Bashir (King Saud University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia)