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Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine

Faculty Profile: Joel Voss, PhD, Assistant Professor of Medical Social Sciences and Neurology

Joel Voss, PhD

In his research, Joel Voss, PhD, focuses on understanding how the human brain works, particularly how different parts of the brain function to help people think, learn, and remember. Last August, he published a study showing that non-invasively stimulating the brain with magnetic pulses can improve memory. The exciting finding holds promise for patients with memory impairments caused by stroke, early-stage Alzheimer’s disease, traumatic brain injury, and many other conditions.

Voss completed his PhD in 2007 from Northwestern University’s Interdepartmental Neuroscience PhD Program (NUIN). He joined the Feinberg faculty in 2012 as an assistant professor in Medical Social Sciences and Neurology after completing a postdoctoral fellowship at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.


What are your research interests?

I use cognitive and clinical neuroscience approaches to study the organization of memory in the human brain and the nature of memory disruptions in neurologic and neuropsychiatric conditions. My laboratory also develops novel methods for modifying memory abilities using nonsurgical brain stimulation. For instance, in our recent research, we have shown that it is possible to use nonsurgical stimulation to enhance the function of the hippocampus, a memory structure deep within the brain, thereby increasing people’s learning ability.

Who makes up your research team?

The goal is to advance the understanding of memory disorders and to develop targeted interventions to improve function in individuals with debilitating memory impairments.

How did you become interested in this research? 

Memory is a fascinating ability, and researching it has captivated me for quite some time. While working with individuals with debilitating memory disorders during my postdoctoral fellowship, I learned the high cost of memory impairment to life quality. Memory is an essential part of life and central to our concepts of self-identity. Memory loss is therefore practically and emotionally devastating for victims and their families, and there are currently no effective treatments for it. Better understanding of memory disorders and development of targeted interventions has since been my focus.

How is your research funded?

My research is funded by R01 and R00 awards from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, the National Institute on Aging, and the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). 

My laboratory is also funded by a Silvio O. Conte Center for Neuroscience Research from NIMH that allows us to pursue collaborative translational research on memory with other laboratories at Boston University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Illinois, and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. 

Finally, we have also received generous support from the Brinson Foundation and the Lynn Sage Cancer Research Foundation.

Where have you recently published papers?

In the last year we have published our research in Science, Neuron, The Journal of Neuroscience, Cerebral Cortex, and Hippocampus, among others.

What resources at Northwestern have been helpful for your research?

Our research is heavily dependent on MRI-based measures of brain function, and we could not perform this research without the excellent neuroimaging resources provided at the Center for Translational Imaging.