The 2021 BRAIN Initiative Show Us Your BRAINs! Photo and Video Contest is Now Open

Posted on April 9th, 2021

The Winners of the BRAIN Challenge

Posted on March 31st, 2021

picture of brain, light bulb, neuron, and scale with the

Last year, the Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies® (BRAIN) Initiative proposed a challenge. This challenge was for students to describe their perspectives on the ethics, limitations, and implications of emerging technologies that are used to study and treat disorders of the human brain. Students were invited to submit their perspectives in the form of a 2-page essay or a video no longer than 5 minutes. Well, when the BRAIN Initiative called, the students answered! In fact, the NIH received over a hundred submissions from students across the United States for this BRAIN Initiative Challenge. Submissions were carefully reviewed by members of both the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the BRAIN Initiative Alliance, as well as actual BRAIN scientists. Final selections occurred after thoughtful evaluation by NIH leadership involved in BRAIN and ethics. You can see the prize-winning submissions by visiting the updated Challenge Submission page!

Let’s start with the essay winners; great job everyone!

PlaceTitleWinnerHome StateGrade
1stThe Call for Guidelines to Regulate Commercial Neuromarketing
2ndNeuroethics for a Versatile Future
3rd (tie)Ethically Enhancing Human Abilities using Neurotechnology
3rd (tie)Creating Brain Organoids Isn’t a “No-Brainer”

What about the video winners? We would also like to thank all of our video winners for their amazing presentations!

PlaceTitleWinnerHome StateGrade
1stWhere Are We Headed
Ayush & AbbiramNew Jersey11th
2ndWhat the Novel 1984 Teaches Us About Neuroethics: A Student Discussion of Cognitive Liberty
Brenda & AlinneTexas10th
3rdBrain Computer Interfaces
Anisha & AnikaWashington12th

The NIH BRAIN Initiative Director, Dr. John Ngai, and Director of the National Institute of Neurological Disease and Stroke, Dr. Walter Koroshetz, announced our winners live via an online broadcast. We asked our winners what their key take-away was from this experience that they want their peers, parents, and teachers to remember. Here’s what a few of them said:

Mawuena“Concerning patients, we should actively listen to them because their more in tune with their experiences and their needs. When doctors and neuroscientists start to listen to patients then treatment can improve.”
Zaynab“I would like us to realize that as we are developing amazing technologies that allow us to really explore how the brain works in unprecedented ways, and even find out ways to cure devastating brain diseases. We also need to be mindful of the fact that we are potentially sentient organoids and it is our responsibility not only to study pain and suffering and sentience but also realize that this comes at the cost of reaping the medical benefits.”
Masara“I believe the brain is arguably the most important part of our body and is what makes us, us, and I think it should have the utmost time and care put it when discussing third-party applications like sensors and implants in our brains and what data they can take and use.”
Brenda & Alinne“After learning more about the threats to neuroethics we have been able to value cognitive liberty more. Developing technology puts us at risk to cognitive liberty. As this technology continues to develop it is essential to continue posing new questions about the ethics of it all.”
Vamsi“New technologies spurred by companies increasing sophisticated marketing activities will cause more invasive and potentially unethical business practices like the advent of commercial neuromarketing…To protect consumer autonomy we all must be aware of commercial neuromarketing and be wary of the subsequent advances.”
Ayush & Abbiram“What we need to do now is learn from our previous mistakes with things like the internet and data and begin to set guidelines before anything potentially bad happens…It’s these types of conversations that will need to be had in the classroom and also beyond to breed the kind of thinking that we need to question the technology and see its impacts in the future. Ultimately, everyone can and should have a voice in these conversations.

Due to the multitude of amazing submissions, there were a number of honorable mentions we would like to highlight. Here are the six honorable mentions from the essay category and one from the video category:

CategoryTitleNameHome StateGrade
EssayDeep Brain Stimulation – Improving Informed Consent
EssayFiction to Fact
EssayThe Neuro-Social Dilemma
EssayThe Ethical Concerns of Advanced Neuropsychiatry
EssayThe New Era of Neuro-Regulations
EssayShould DBS Be Performed Knowing It Can Cause Personality Change
VideoMinding the Future
James & DerekMaryland11th

Way to rise above the other entries, honorable mentions!

If you missed this prize competition, never fear! The NIH BRAIN Initiative is thrilled to announce plans for another Challenge for high school students in the coming year. Check back at and on @USBrainAlliance!

February Publication Roundup

Posted on February 26th, 2021

BRAIN Announces Funding Supplements to Support Resource Dissemination

Posted on February 25th, 2021

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.

screenshot of zoom headshots
Above: The moderator (Dr. Ute Hochgeschwender) and speakers during a panel discussion on Day 1, which highlighted new BRAIN Initiative tools (probes, optics, cellular and molecular tools).

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.

screenshot of virtual presentation
Above: TiAir Riggins is a PhD student from Michigan State University who presented her work on an inflammation model to characterize responses to diamond-based electrodes during the Tools session.

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.

screenshot of virtual presentation
Above: Doctoral student Stephanie Cernera kicks off the Technology session explaining her work on deep brain stimulation designs.

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.

screenshot of virtual presentation
Above: Postdoc Daniel Thengone explains an experiment on brain computer interfaces during the Theory session of the three-part BRAIN Initiative Alliance programming.

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

BRAIN-funded scientists Drs. Jerold Chun, Duygu Kuzum, and Christopher D. Harvey (left to right) were recipients of 2020 NIH Director’s Awards that will support their original and innovative research. Photo credit: NIH Office of Strategic Communication – The Common Fund.

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.

Scientists Say A Mind-Bending Rhythm In The Brain Can Act Like Ketamine

Posted on October 2nd, 2020

Unlocking the Mysteries of Brain Chemistry With New Dopamine Sensors

Posted on September 27th, 2020