International Brain Projects Considered

Posted on April 22nd, 2016

Since the launch of the US BRAIN Initiative and the EU Human Brain Project, the idea of global participation in large-scale neuroscience projects has gained considerable momentum. Australia, Canada, and Denmark have all joined the US BRAIN Initiative as formal partners. In addition, Japan has launched a nationwide initiative focused on marmoset brain research and China is preparing to announce its own national brain project.

In an attempt to channel some of this excitement about brain research into a single international collaboration to tackle a major neuroscience project, more than 60 scientists from 12 countries met at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md, earlier this month. Science magazine’s Emily Underwood wrote a story about the meeting, which was sponsored by the Kavli Foundation and the National Science Foundation. Underwood reported that the goal of the meeting was to discuss big projects worthy of worldwide participation. Some of the diverse ideas centered on curing a single disease such as depression or Alzheimer’s, while others focused on creating highly detailed maps of neural connections within the human brain or describing the detailed neural circuitry involved in the production of a single complex behavior in a mammal.

According to Underwood, three basic research questions emerged as topics of interest: what makes individual brains unique; how the brain’s many components orchestrate learning and task performance; and how to leverage the brain’s plasticity towards protecting and restoring brain function.

In addition, a central point of discussion at the meeting was figuring out a better method for vetting, sharing, and storing neuroscience data. The attendees’ proposals for such a method converged on an online resource tentatively called the International Brain Station that would serve up enormous neuroscience datasets to researchers and the general public.

The scientists will meet again in September to finalize their proposal, which will then be presented a couple of weeks later to global leaders at the United National General Assembly to gather support and funding for the proposed project.

IEEE Transaction on Biomedical Engineering Devotes Entire March Issue to BRAIN Initiative

Posted on April 11th, 2016

The articles cover a wide range of topics related to BRAIN Initiative goals, from multi-scale neural recordings to deep brain stimulation to technologies for recording activity in human brains such as EEG and ECoG.

The journal IEEE Transactions on Biomedical Engineering devoted their March issue, 22 articles in all, to BRAIN Initiative research. “These articles reflect a rich spectrum of BRAIN research on neurotechnologies for recording, imaging, interfacing and modulating the brain at multiple scales,” write the editors.

The articles describe research conducted by grantees of several BRAIN Initiative federal partners, including NIH, NSF, DARPA, and IARPA. The issue also includes papers by industry partners such as NeuroNexus. In addition, the issue reflects the global effort to understand the brain, with authors residing in the U.S., Australia, Belgium, Canada, Ireland, Italy, South Korea, Thailand, and the U.K.

NIH BRAIN Initiative grantees contributed the following three articles:

Chronic in vivo evaluation of PEDOT/CNT for stable neural recordings” by BRAIN grantees Kensall Wise and Euisik Yoon and colleagues. This paper discusses the design of a new type of coating for ultra-small microelectrodes. Although ultra-small microelectrodes can be used for long-term recordings, they tend to have high impedance, which makes them unable to isolate electrical signals from individual neurons. Wise and Yoon et al. developed a poly(3,4-ethylenedioxythiophene) (PEDOT) coating doped with carboxyl functionalized multi-walled carbon nanotubes (CNTs) that effectively lowered electrode resistance to allow single neuron recording. The PEDOT/CNT coating resulted in chronic recordings that were more stable and longer lasting than the current state-of-the-art coating for these types of microelectrodes.

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Dual shank silicon PEDOT neural probe. Image credit: IEEE Transactions on Biomedical Engineering. DOI: 10.1109/TBME.2015.2445713.

Combined Single Unit Neuron Activity and Local Field Potential Oscillations in a Human Visual Recognition Task” by Gregory Worrell and colleagues. This paper compares the action potentials from single neurons and the local field potential—a measure of activity averaged across many neurons—measured with intracranial hybrid electrodes in epilepsy patients performing a recognition memory task. Worrell et al. found that local field potential oscillations were more sensitive to novel images and affectively charged versus neutral images than single neurons.

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Neural probe punctuated with alternating macro-electrode and micro-electrode clusters that record local filed potential and single neuron spikes, respectively. Image credit: IEEE.

Close-Packed Silicon Microelectrodes for Scalable Spatially Oversampled Neural Recording” by BRAIN grantee Ed Boyden and colleagues. This paper describes the design and implementation of close-packed silicon microelectrodes. The probes are fabricated in a hybrid lithography process, resulting in a dense array of recording sites connected to submicron-dimension wiring. Boyden et al. demonstrated their microelectrodes in mammalian brain recording sessions, using a series of probes comprising 1000 recording sites, each recording from an area roughly 9 microns X 9 microns.

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Closely packed recording sites on a neural probe. Each square can record from an area as small as 9 microns X 9 microns. Image credit: scalablephysiology.org

All of the IEEE Transactions on Biomedical Engineering articles are available here.

NIH BRAIN Initiative Announces Collaborative Agreement with Danish Lundbeck Foundation

Posted on February 23rd, 2016

Formal letter of agreement describes new partnership with Lundbeckfonden to support the involvement of researchers at Danish institutions in the BRAIN Initiative.

The 10 NIH Institutes and Centers invested in the BRAIN Initiative recently announced a new international partnership, formalized by a letter of agreement, with Lundbeckfonden (the Lundbeck Foundation) to support the involvement of Danish researchers in the NIH BRAIN Initiative.

Danish institutions and researchers can participate via two routes. For any existing FY 14 or FY 15 awards, researchers from Danish institutions may establish collaborations with NIH awardees and then apply directly to the Lundbeck Foundation for funding of work to be performed in Denmark. NIH will consider administrative supplements to support these collaborations. For eligible current and future funding opportunities, Danish researchers may submit applications for consideration of funding to both NIH and the Lundbeck Foundation. Should a project receive NIH funding via the peer-review process, the Lundbeck Foundation will determine whether it will fully or partially fund any Danish-based project elements.

In addition to providing funds, representatives of the Lundbeck Foundation will join those of the National Science Foundation, the Food and Drug Administration, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council, Brain Canada, and the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Agency in meetings of the BRAIN Multi-Council Working Group.

For more details and contact information, follow this link to view the notice of the Lundebeckfonden agreement.

NIH Invests $85 Million for BRAIN Initiative Research

Posted on October 1st, 2015

New round of projects for visualizing the brain in action

The National Institutes of Health announced its second wave of grants to support the goals of the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative, bringing the NIH investment to $85 million in fiscal year 2015.

Sixty-seven new awards, totaling more than $38 million, will go to 131 investigators working at 125 institutions in the United States and eight other countries. These awards expand NIH’s efforts to develop new tools and technologies to understand neural circuit function and capture a dynamic view of the brain in action. Projects include proposals to develop soft self-driving electrodes, ultrasound methods for measuring brain activity and the use of deep brain stimulation to treat traumatic brain injuries.

In 2014, the President launched the BRAIN Initiative as a large-scale effort to equip researchers with fundamental insights necessary for treating a wide variety of brain disorders like Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, autism, epilepsy, and traumatic brain injury. These new tools and this deeper understanding will ultimately catalyze new treatments and cures for devastating brain disorders and diseases that are estimated by the World Health Organization to affect more than one billion people worldwide.

Planning for the NIH component of the BRAIN initiative is guided by the long-term scientific plan, BRAIN 2025: A Scientific Vision that details seven high priority research areas. Last year NIH awarded $46 million to BRAIN Initiative research.

For a list of the new grants and more information about the NIH BRAIN Initiative, please visit here.