Cognitive Neuroscience Group co-chairs Sofia Vallila Rohter, Yael Arbel, and Lauryn Zipse are researching how learning, language, and cognitive skills evolve to help clinicians better plan treatment for people with language disorders.

Three speech-language pathology researchers who found a common bond are also finding recognition and receiving grant money to fund studies aimed at improving the lives of people with language disorders. 

“We all wear different hats. We all bring different things to the table,” Dr. Lauryn Zipse said of herself and her colleagues, Dr. Yael Arbel and Dr. Sofia Vallila Rohter. All three are faculty in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders who also serve as co-directors of the MGH Institute’s Cognitive Neuroscience Group (CNG). They are researching how learning, language, and cognitive skills evolve to help clinicians better plan treatment for people with language disorders. 

“It’s taken a lot of persistence and determination to grow our research programs,” said Arbel. “Seeing results and the growing research community we’re contributing to at the IHP is extremely rewarding.” Arbel, Zipse, and Vallila Rohter formed the research lab in 2015. 

“We came together around complementary interests and a shared drive to carry out research,” Vallila Rohter said, reflecting on the early days of their collaboration. “In those days, the IHP was still in the initial phases of research growth and space for collecting data was somewhat limited. We decided to find ways to make it work and set up labs in our offices.” 

The results speak for themselves: The three researchers have received nearly $3 million in grant funding from the National Institutes of Health, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Foundation, the IHP, and other organizations. Their research is advancing knowledge around ways to better understand and tailor therapy for individuals experiencing learning delays in childhood or language loss due to stroke and traumatic brain injury. 

The CNG also represents how research initiatives are positively impacting the school’s student body. Each year, the researchers mentor approximately two dozen graduate students at the master’s, doctoral, and post-doctoral levels. 

“Students in our group become part of an exciting research community at the IHP,” Arbel said. “They learn to collect and analyze data and interpret results. We see these skills translate over to their decision-making in clinical practice with many of them going on to pursue PhDs.” 

The group also has hosted internship programs and research experiences for students at universities with more limited research or no exposure to clinical populations. “In our research, we work with people who have real need for effective treatment and thoughtful care,” said Zipse. “Part of our mission is to expose undergraduate students to our field so that they might be inspired to contribute.” 

Vallila Rohter, who has research collaborations with Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, added, “The Institute has such strong clinical partnerships that enhance the potential to carry out meaningful research. As our research continues to grow, I look forward to continuing to increase connections with our clinical partners and seeing patients benefit.” 

“The CNG Lab is a great example of how research aligns with the IHP’s mission to advance scientific understanding, educate the scientists of tomorrow, and improve health care delivery and health outcomes across the globe,” said Dr. Nara Gavini, the associate provost for research.