The BRAIN Initiative Alliance — Tools, Tech, Theory, and Trainees at Neuromatch 3.0
Posted on November 23rd, 2020
Neuroscience doesn’t only happen in the laboratory; it also happens at conferences. Academic meetings present many diverse opportunities for collaboration, networking, and professional development. At the same time, most workshops are expensive to put on, require time away from home, and leave a hefty carbon footprint on the environment. Further, in the wake of COVID-19, in-person conferences present too great a risk to the health of attendees. For this reason, virtual events have become a popular way to facilitate talks, discussions, and professional development. One such event that took place from October 26-28 was Neuromatch 3.0.
Neuromatch is a conference aimed to create a better online experience by making programming more open, inclusive, and democratic. In the opening remarks of Neuromatch 3.0, Dr. Konrad Kording described the mission of Neuromatch, noting conferences should be financially accessible, “all identities should be welcome,” and Neuromatch “believes in bringing scientists together”. Neuromatch has hosted several events already this year, but the most comprehensive of these was the recent Neuromatch 3.0 (See talks on demand). People all across the world have been participating in these events, including BRAIN Initiative® investigators. The BRAIN Initiative Alliance (BIA) collaborated with Neuromatch 3.0 to host a Town Hall and a three-part series in order to highlight cutting-edge tools (probes, optics, cellular, molecular), technology (software and hardware), and theories (modeling, computation and theory) emerging from BRAIN Initiative efforts within the United States. Like many of the Neuromatch 3.0 events, this three-part series put a special spotlight on the trainees involved with BRAIN Initiative research.
During the Town Hall, Dr. Konrad Kording moderated a discussion by leaders within the BRAIN Initiative Alliance. Drs. Michelle Elekonich from the National Science Foundation (NSF), David Markowitz from the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA), Caroline Montojo from the Kavli Foundation, John Ngai from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and Alyssa Picchini Schaffer from the Simons Foundation contributed. The future of neuroscience funding was a hot topic during this session. Dr. Montojo said, “We invite scientists to think big,” at the Kavli Foundation. As the discussion came to a close, Dr. Ngai commented that there has been “a breathtaking development of tools and technologies in the last few years.”
Following the BIA Town Hall, those tools and technologies were highlighted via the three-part series that broadcasted short, pre-recorded talks from BRAIN investigators. Each session included a panel discussion with questions fielded from the Neuromatch attendees.
Tools: Moderated by Dr. Ute Hochgeschwender from Central Michigan University, the speakers for the first session ranged from students to senior investigators. Dr. Aparna Bhaduri is a postdoc transitioning to a faculty position at the University of California Los Angeles through a BRAIN K99. Her research has focused primarily on the lipid profiles of different cell types. Another trainee, postdoc Dr. Hyewon Seo, presented her and Dr. Heather Clark’s work on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) for biological applications. Assistant Investigator in Applied Genomics at the Allen Institute for Brain Science, Dr. Boaz Levi, discussed his vision for a new suite of genetic tools to interrogate the role of cell types across species. Doctoral student Ti’Air Riggins from Michigan State University gave the final presentation on astrocyte reactivity to diamond-based electrodes. During the panel discussion, Dr. Franco Pestilli explained that on brainlife, his lab’s free cloud-based platform for neuroscience research, you can keep your dataset private or public.
Technology: In the second installment of this series, the discussion turned from tools to technology (such as software and hardware). This day also focused heavily on trainees’ contributions. With Dr. Jacob Robinson from Rice University as the moderator, the session kicked off with PhD student Stephanie Cernera from the University of Florida, who explained her work with closed-loop deep brain stimulation systems. With the assistance of senior researcher, Dr. Kee Scholten, Dr. Ellis Meng from the University of Southern California presented their work developing polymer electrode arrays through the Polymer Implantable Electrode (PIE) Foundry. Doctoral student Alexander Riordan from Princeton University presented compelling data on deep-brain connectomics in grid cells using a variety of technological approaches, such as calcium imaging and virtual reality. From the lab of Dr. Sam Sober at Emory University, postdoctoral researcher Dr. Bryce Chung and Dr. Muneeb Zia (a research engineer from the Georgia Institute of Technology) described their advances in multi-electrode arrays for single unit recordings. Another postdoctoral scholar, Dr. Taylor Webb from the University of Utah, gave the final presentation of the day on his work using a non-invasive, deep brain approach to understand focal neuromodulation in a nonhuman primate model.
Theory: The third and final session of the BRAIN Initiative Alliance series during Neuromatch 3.0 focused on the theory of neurotechnology (modeling, computation). This session was moderated by Dr. Elizabeth Buffalo from the University of Washington. First up was Case Western Reserve University’s Dr. Insoo Hyun, the primary investigator of The Brainstorm Project. His talk focused on human brain organoids and the ethics in bioengineering that accompany this research area. The next talk was given by data scientist Dr. Jeremy Magland from the Flatiron Institute and Simons Foundation. He described the SpikeForest platform, where users can find an open source python package for spike sorting electrophysiological data. Next, postdoctoral researcher Dr. Stephanie Noble from Yale University described her work at the intersection of neuroimaging, statistics, and computational neuroscience. Her talk focused on the Constrained Network-Based Statistic and how this new level of inference is circumventing the current limitations of statistics. The following speaker, Dr. Sridevi Sarma, a professor at Johns Hopkins University, talked about dynamical systems modeling approaches during a grasp task in nonhuman primates. Finally, the series ended with a talk from postdoctoral researcher Dr. Daniel Thengone from Brown University. He explained a feedback-based, brain-computer interface in the context of severe motor impairment.
Altogether, this three-part series highlighted an inspirational lineup of rising stars and outstanding experts in the field of neurotechnology. From tools to technology and theory, the new advances from the BRAIN Initiative are pushing the field of neuroscience further and virtual events like Neuromatch 3.0 are opening doors for researchers to stay connected during these trying times.
New NIH BRAIN Initiative awards move toward solving brain disorders
Posted on November 19th, 2020
Allen Institute announces 2020 Next Generation Leaders
Posted on November 19th, 2020
2020 NIH Director’s Awards Granted to Three BRAIN Initiative Scientists
Posted on October 21st, 2020
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently awarded 85 grants through its High-Risk, High-Reward Research program that will fund innovative and impactful biomedical or behavioral research by exceptionally creative scientists. This NIH Common Fund program accelerates scientific discovery by supporting inherently risky research proposals that may struggle in the traditional peer-review process, despite their transformative potential. Program awardees are recognized for thinking “outside the box” and pursuing trailblazing ideas. This year the NIH issued 10 NIH Director’s Pioneer awards, 53 NIH Director’s New Innovator awards, nine NIH Director’s Transformative Research awards, and 13 NIH Director’s Early Independence awards. The 85 awards total about $251 million over five years.
One NIH Director’s Pioneer Award was granted to Christopher D. Harvey, Ph.D., Associate Professor in the Department of Neurobiology at Harvard Medical School. Established in 2004, the Pioneer Award challenges investigators at all career levels to pursue “pioneering” research approaches with broad impacts beyond their field of research. Dr. Harvey seeks to understand how the mammalian brain performs computations that underlie cognitive functions, such as decision-making and short-term memory. He helped develop novel methods to measure, manipulate, and analyze neural circuits across spatial and temporal scales, including virtual reality, optical imaging, optogenetics, intracellular electrophysiology, molecular sensors, and computational modeling. Dr. Harvey’s award may uncover the causal mechanisms by which cognition emerges from basic neurobiological processes, transforming our understanding of mental health and its disorders. His BRAIN Initiative grant focuses on combining neural population imaging, connectomics, and computational modeling to study the relationship between neural circuit connectivity and function.
Duygu Kuzum, Ph.D., Associate Professor in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department at the University of California, San Diego, received the NIH Director’s New Innovator Award, which is granted to extraordinarily creative early career scientists proposing innovative, high-impact projects. Dr. Kuzum leverages innovations in nanoelectronics to develop new neurotechnologies to study brain function. The award will fund her work on developing a new interface for brain organoids, called e-Organoids, that will enable more precise cellular monitoring and better maintenance of a healthy brain microenvironment. This new technology could greatly improve the study of brain development and neural circuits, as well as provide an experimental platform for drug development and testing. Dr. Kuzum is also funded by a BRAIN Initiative grant to develop an ultra high-density neural recording array to ‘virtually’ record from neurons in a three dimensional space, a device that will enable comprehensive mapping of neural circuits and may lead to targeted treatments for neurological disorders.
A NIH Director’s Transformative Research Award was granted to Jerold Chun, M.D., Ph.D., Professor and Senior Vice President of Neuroscience Drug Discovery at the Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute. This award supports individuals or research teams proposing transformative projects that are inherently risky but can potentially create or overturn existing paradigms. Dr. Chun has made significant contributions to our understanding of the brain and its diseases, including the discovery of somatic genomic mosaicism and gene recombination in the brain and its involvement in Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and related dementias (ADRDs). His Transformative Research award is focused on using a newly identified molecular mechanism, somatic gene recombination, to link AD and ADRDs mechanistically, as well as identify novel biomarkers and therapeutics for these devastating disorders. Dr. Chun’s studies will be among the first to examine this mechanism in ADRDs. His collaborative BRAIN Initiative U01 award is aimed at using novel gene-based technologies and computational approaches to characterize every cell type in the human brain, serving as a whole brain reference atlas for studying the molecular basis of brain disorders.