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Overview, Research, and Publications

    • The Palestinian Neuroscience Initiative (PNI) was establsihed in 2009 at Al-Quds University as a nucleus for a future Palestinian Neuroscience Institute. It encompasses research and educational programs in cognitive neuroscience, molecular neuroscience, neurogenetics, neuropharmacology and neuropsychiatry.

      The PNI has four main aims:

      1. Build infrastructure for neuroscience research in Palestine.
      2. Augment research training for a new generation of Palestinian students and researchers in cooperation with elite institutions worldwide.
      3. Conduct research to understand locally-specific characteristics of neurological and psychiatric disorders in Palestine.
      4. Raise public awareness of psychiatric and neurological disorders among Palestinians.

      Since 2009, the PNI team has trained 70 Palestinian students and researchers; built research units for cognitive neuroscience, behavioral genetics, developmental neuroscience, and molecular neuroscience; engaged the collaboration of 25 local Palestinian neurologists and psychiatrists; established research referral and testing programs at mental health clinics throughout the West Bank; hosted 11 neuroscience colloquium talks and 3 mini-symposia whose speakers included several distinguished neuroscientists, including Nobel Laureates; received prestigious international awards and research grants; and published 12 neuroscience papers in international peer-reviewed journals, with many more papers in preparation.

      Through the PNI we will create a viable research institution to host Palestinian and other neuroscientists to pursue research careers in Palestine.

    • Current research at the Palestinian Neuroscience Initiative (PNI) focuses on:

      1. Cognitive mechanism of action of SSRI antidepressants in patients with mood and anxiety disorders.
      2. Defining cognitive, molecular, genetic, and hormonal markers of response to SSRI antidepressants in patients with major depressive disorder.
      3. Cognitive correlates of clinical depression in Parkinson’s disease and administration of dopaminergic medications.
      4. Cognitive underpinnings of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and the administration of psychostimulants.
      5. The cognitive effects of naturally-occurring genetic polymorphisms in dopamine and serotonin genes in healthy subjects.
      6. The hormonal correlates of cognitive changes during the mentral cycle in normally-cycling healthy women.
      7. Neurocomputational modeling of the effects of dopamine and serotonin on cognitive function in both healthy and disease populations.
      8. Translation and validation of psychometric assessment tools for the Palestinian population.
    • 2010

      • Herzallah MM, Moustafa AA, et al. “Depression impairs learning whereas anticholinergics impair transfer generalization in Parkinson patients tested on dopaminergic medications.” Cogn Behav Neurol 23(2): 98-105.(http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20535058)
      • Moustafa AA, Keri S, Herzallah MM, et al. “A neural model of hippocampal-striatal interactions in associative learning and transfer generalization in various neurological and psychiatric patients.” Brain Cogn. 2010 74(2): 132-44.(http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20728258)

      2013

      • Moustafa AA, Herzallah MM, et al. “Dissociating the cognitive effects of levodopa versus dopamine agonists in a neurocomputational model of learning in Parkinson’s disease.” Neurodegener Dis. 2013;11(2):102-11.(http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23128796)
      • Moustafa AA, Gilbertson MW, Orr SP, Herzallah MM, et al. “A model of amygdala-hippocampal-prefrontal interaction in fear conditioning and extinction in animals.” Brain Cogn. 2012 Nov 16;81(1):29-43.(http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23164732)
      • Herzallah MM, Moustafa AA, Natsheh JY, Danoun OA, et al. “Depression impairs learning, whereas the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, paroxetine, impairs generalization in patients with Major Depressive Disorder.” J Affect Disord. 2013 Nov;151(2):484-92.(http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23953023)
      • Herzallah MM, Moustafa AA, Natsheh JY, Abdellatif SM, et al. “Learning from negative feedback in patients with Major Depressive Disorder is attenuated by SSRI antidepressants.” Front Integr Neurosci. 2013 Sep 23;7:67.(http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24065894)

      2014

      • Fera F, Passamonti L, Herzallah MM, Merys CE, Veltri P, Morganti G, Quattrone A, Gluck MA. “Hippocampal bold response during category learning predicts subsequent performance on transfer generalization.” Hum Brain Mapp. 2013 Oct 18. doi: 10.1002/hbm.22389.(http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24142480)

      2015

      • Moustafa AA, Gluck MA, Herzallah MM, Myers CE. “The influence of trial order on learning from reward vs. punishment in a probabilistic categorization task: experimental and computational analyses.” Front Behav Neurosci. 2015 Jul 24;9:153. doi: 10.3389/fnbeh.2015.00153. eCollection 2015(http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26257616)
      • Amir A, Lee SC, Headley DB, Herzallah MM, and Paré D. “Amygdala signaling during foraging in a hazardous environment.” J Neurosci. 2015 Sep 23;35(38):12994-3005. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0407-15.2015.(http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26400931)
      • Natsheh JY, Shiflett, MW. “The Effects of Methylphenidate on Goal-directed Behavior in a Rat Model of ADHD.” Front Behav Neurosci. 2015 Nov 25;9:326. doi: 10.3389/fnbeh.2015.00326. ECollection 2015.(http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26635568)

      2016

      • Singh N, Sharpley AL, Emir UE, Masaki C, Herzallah MM, et al. “Effect of the Putative Lithium Mimetic Ebselen on Brain Myo-Inositol, Sleep, and Emotional Processing in Humans.” Neuropsychopharmacology. 2016 Jun;41(7):1768-78. doi: 10.1038/npp.2015.343. Epub 2015 Nov 23 (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26593266)
      • Khdour HY, Abushalbaq OM, Mughrabi IT, Imam AF, Gluck MA, Herzallah MM, Moustafa AA. et al. “Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Social Anxiety Disorder, but Not Panic Anxiety Disorder, Are Associated with Higher Sensitivity to Learning from Negative Feedback: Behavioral and Computational Investigation.” Front Integr Neurosci. 2016 Jun 29;10:20. doi: 10.3389/fnint.2016.00020. eCollection 2016.(https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27445719)

Partners

collaborators

Mohammad M. Herzallah, M.D., Ph.D.

Founder and Director

The PNI aims to create a powerhouse for neuroscience research in Palestine, train the next generation of Palestinian researchers and healthcare professionals, and create a viable research institution in Palestine to host Palestinian and other neuroscientists to pursue research careers in Palestine. Since its inception in 2009, research at the PNI has focused on investigating the molecular, genetic, hormonal and computational underpinnings of cognitive function in both healthy and patient populations.  In particular, we study brain systems involved in feedback-based learning of approach (of positive outcomes) and avoidance (of negative outcomes) as well as rule-generalization. By focusing on unique characteristics of psychiatric and neurological disorders among Palestinians, we aspire to learn more about these disorders to help patients worldwide.

Post-M.D. Researchers:

 

Aram Abdelhaq, M.D.

Post-M.D. Researcher

My research focuses on studying the cognitive correlates of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children. I am also interested in the role of naturally-occurring genetic polymorphisms in modulating response to psychostimulants such as methylphenidate.

Osama M. Abu-hadid, M.D.

Post-M.D. Researcher

Since joining the PNI in 2011, my research focus and passion has been on dopamine; its role in executive function, emotion, and movement. I study the effects of naturally occurring genetic polymorphisms in dopamine genes on feedback-based learning in healthy and patient populations. This is an important milestone for me, since I plan to specialize in movement disorders. This will give me the opportunity to create a balance between academic and clinical endeavors and further clinical research in Palestine.

Lubna A. Malhis, M.D.

Post-M.D. Researcher

Since joining the PNI in 2015, I study the cognitive underpinnings of psychiatric and neurologic disorders in the pediatric population. I aspire to learn more about the cognitive side effects of treatment of psychiatric and neurological disorders in children, and how they can inform our understanding of the pathophysiology of these disorders.

Hamza N. Mousa, M.D.

Post-M.D. Researcher

Since joining the PNI, I have been interested in combining research with clinical medicine. My research focuses on the cognitive, molecular and genetic correlates of major depressive disorder (MDD) and antidepressants. Further, I investigate potential markers for response to antidepressants in patients with MDD.

Mousa Saeed, M.D.

Post-M.D. Researcher

I joined the PNI in 2014 to work on the cognitive correlates of genetic polymorphisms in dopamine and serotonin genes. Currently, I study the cognitive underpinning of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and the effects of psychostimulants such as methylphenidate in the pediatric population.

Abdelrahman S. Sawalma, M.D.

Post-M.D. Researcher

I joined the PNI in August 2015. I am deeply interested in clinical neuroscience research. I currently study the cognitive correlates of major depressive disorder and SSRI antidepressants. I am also interested in the application of mathematics and computer science to neuroscience and medicine.

Ahmad B. Taha, M.D.

Post-M.D. Researcher

I am interested in understanding the fundamental neurophysiological correlates of cognition and behavior. My current research at the PNI is directed towards investigating patterns of learning from positive and negative feedback in Parkinson’s patients. By using various cognitive tasks, genetic markers and clinical assessment tools, I aspire to learn more about the cognitive deficits related to feedback-based learning in Parkinson’s disease

Post-M.S. Researchers:

 

Oday M. Abushalbaq, M.S.

Research Associate

I serve as a research associate at the PNI. I received my Master’s degree in cancer research and molecular biomedicine from the University of Manchester, UK. My current research focuses on studying cognitive impairments induced in cancer patients receiving chemotherapy. Additionally, I study learning and memory impairments in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Nibal Y. Khudiesh, M.S.

Research Associate

I serve as a research associate at the PNI since 2015. I received my master’s degree in molecular biology from An-Najah National University in Nablus. My current research focuses on studying the cognitive correlates of naturally-occurring genetic polymorphisms in healthy subjects in northern Palestine.

M.S. Students:

 

Mohammed Abu Ridi

Master’s Researcher

As a Master’s student, my research focuses on the source localization of EEG signals that aims to localize the activities in the brain. This consists solving the forward and inverse models of source localization problem. I aspire to use my expertise to study event-related potential in patients with psychiatric disorders.

Mai I. Baker

Master’s Researcher

Since joining the PNI, I focused on studying the influence of reproductive hormones on cognitive function in healthy undergraduates at Al-Quds University. I also investigate the link between reproductive hormonal variations and genetic polymorphisms on feedback-based learning and mood fluctuations.

Ashar Y. Natsheh

Master’s Researcher

I received a B.S in computer information systems from Bethlehem University. I am currently finishing my Master’s degree in the science of informatics in the Palestine Polytechnic University. I am interested in computational modeling of brain networks that underlie cognitive function. In particular, I work on developing a computerized framework to model the effects of naturally-occurring polymorphisms of dopamine genes on feedback-based learning in healthy subjects. I aspire to learn more about neural mechanisms underlying cognition using computational modeling.

Medical Students:

 

Amjad Elmashala

Medical Student Researcher

I joined the PNI in December 2012. Since then, I have worked on studying the cognitive correlates of genetic polymorphisms in dopamine and serotonin genes. Recently, I started working on studies of cognitive function in patients with Parkinson’s disease.

Mousa K. Hamad

Medical Student Researcher

I am a 4th year medical student at Rutgers University- New Jersey Medical School in Newark, NJ with the ultimate goal of training in neurological surgery. I have been involved with the PNI since its establishment in 2009, (first) as an undergraduate research assistant, and currently in facilitating public relations, increasing public awareness, fundraising and research. My current research focuses on tremor mechanisms, clinical neurological surgery, assessing brain health needs in Palestine, and integrating the PNI and medical education.

Marwa W. Tarayra

Medical Student Researcher

I joined the PNI in January 2013. I’m currently studying the cognitive effects of genetic polymorphisms in dopamine and serotonin genes in undergraduate students at Al-Quds University. In particular, my research focusses on understanding the effects of these genetic polymorphism on learning from reward and punishment using computer-based cognitive tasks.

Aseel Z. Yacoub

Medical Student Researcher

I am a 5th year medical student at Al-Quds University. My current research focuses on the cognitive effects of interaction between hormonal fluctuations and naturally occurring genetic polymorphism in the serotonin system.

Undergraduates:

 

Shafi’a K. Jaffal

Undergraduate Researcher

I am a student at the Al-Quds/Bard college. Through the PNI, I work on my senior project on studying the effect of hormonal fluctuations on cognitive functions during the menstrual cycle. Using computer-based tasks, we investigate basal ganglia dependent cognitive functions in relation to levels of reproductive hormones across the menstrual cycle of healthy undergraduates at Al-Quds University.

Hala A. Khalawi

Undergraduate Researcher

I am a Biology student at the Al-Quds/Bard Honors College. I am currently working on studying the effect of hormonal fluctuations on cognitive functions during the menstrual cycle using computer-based tasks. My goal is to understand the effect of reproductive hormonal levels during the menstrual cycle on hippocampal-dependent cognitive function.

 

Collaborating Alumni:

 

  • Ibrahim Mughrabi, M.D. (Ph.D. Candidate, Northwell Health, USA)
  • Joman Natsheh, M.D. (Ph.D. Candidate, Rutgers, USA)
  • Mohamad Taha, M.D. (Postdoctoral Fellow, Harvard, USA)
  • Sponsors

    We are proud to be sponsored by the following organizations and individuals. To join the ranks, please follow the directions in the “Donate” page.

    sponsors_3

    SPONSORING ORGANIZATIONS:

    • Hikma Pharmaceuticals LLC
    • GMS Holdings
    • Aramex
    • The Fogarty International Center
    • National Institute of Mental Health
    • The Harvard Arab Alumni Association (HAAA)
    • The Palestinian American Research Center (PARC)
    • The Jordan University Fund for Palestinian Universities
    • The New Jersey Arab-American Heritage Commission
    • Society for the Advancement of Science and Technology in the Arab World (SASTA)
    • The Dr. Raniyah Ramadan Foundation

    PRIVATE DONORS

    • Daryl Kulok, Lila Gruber Research Foundation
    • Saad N. Mouasher
    • Mahmoud M. Atallah
    • Dr. Samih Darwazah
    • Dr. Fouad Rasheed
    • Ghiath Sukhtian
    • Fadi Ghandour
    • Samer Hamad

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