July 14, 2017
Three research projects with the potential to expand available technologies in the field of neuroscience have just been recognized with $600,000 in grant funding from the prestigious 2017 McKnight Technological Innovations in Neuroscience Awards. Aimed at advancing the range of tools neuroscientists have to map, monitor, and model brain function, this annual award bestowed by the McKnight Endowment Fund for Neuroscience will provide a total of $200,000 over two years to the following awardees:
Jose M. Carmena, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Electrical Engineering & Computer Sciences at the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute, and Michel M. Maharbiz, Ph.D., Professor Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences, University of California Berkeley, “Neural Dust: an ultrasonic, low power, extreme miniature technology for completely wireless and untethered neural recordings in the brain.”
Ali Gholipour, Ph.D., staff scientist at the Computational Radiology Laboratory at Boston Children’s Hospital and Assistant Professor in Radiology, Harvard Medical School, “Motion- robust imaging technology for quantitative analysis of early brain development.”
Alexander Schier, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, Harvard University, “Recording the history of neuronal activity through genome editing.”
Since the technology awards began in 1999, the Endowment Fund has contributed more than $13 million to innovative technologies for neuroscience. The Endowment Fund is especially interested in work that takes new and novel approaches to advancing the ability to manipulate and analyze brain function. Technologies developed with McKnight support must ultimately be made available to other scientists.
“Again, it has been a thrill to see the ingenuity at work in developing new neurotechnologies,” said Markus Meister, Ph.D., chair of the awards committee and the Anne P. and Benjamin F. Biaggini professor of biological sciences at Caltech. “This year’s awards sponsor an inspiring range of projects: from imaging the brain of the human fetus, to developing electric probes the size of a dust grain, to writing the history of neural activity into a cell’s DNA. Innovation in brain science is alive and well.”
This year’s selection committee also included Edward Callaway, Adrienne Fairhall, Timothy Holy, Loren Looger, Liqun Luo, and Mala Murthy, who chose this year’s McKnight Technological Innovations in Neuroscience Awards from a highly competitive pool of 89 applicants.
Letters of intent for the 2018 Technological Innovations award are due Monday, December 4, 2017. For more information about the awards, please visit https://www.neuroscience.mcknight.org
2017 MCKNIGHT TECHNOLOGICAL INNOVATIONS IN NEUROSCIENCE AWARDS
Jose M. Carmena, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences, and the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute, University of California Berkeley
Michel M. Maharbiz, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences, University of California Berkeley
Neural Dust: an ultrasonic, low power, extreme miniature technology for completely wireless and untethered neural recordings in the brain
Drs. Carmena and Maharbiz are collaborating to create the next generation of brain-machine interface (BMI) using so-called “neural dust”-implantable, mote-sized, ultrasonic sensors that could eliminate the need for wires that go through the skull, and allow for untethered, real-time wireless cortical recording. While researchers in their labs as well as other colleagues at the University of California Berkeley’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences and the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute are studying the potential of neural dust technology as applied to muscles and the peripheral nervous system, funding from McKnight will allow researchers to apply the concept to the central nervous system, a method they believe could revolutionize neurology in the same way the pacemaker revolutionized cardiology. Through closed-loop operation of neural dust technology, Carmena and Maharbiz envision a future in which the brain could be trained or treated to restore normal functionality following injury or the onset of neuropsychological illness.
Ali Gholipour, Ph.D., Assistant Professor in Radiology, Harvard Medical School, Director of Radiology Translational Research and staff scientist at the Computational Radiology Laboratory at Boston Children’s Hospital
Motion-robust imaging technology for quantitative analysis of early brain development
The motion of fetuses, newborns, and toddlers poses a special challenge for researchers focused on advanced imaging to analyze early brain development and identify possible disruptions. Dr. Gholipour’s research group in the Computational Radiology Laboratory at Boston Children’s Hospital is working to develop, evaluate, and disseminate new, motion-robust magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology and software that will allow researchers to study and characterize in-utero, perinatal, and early childhood brain function and structure. New imaging and image analysis tools can lead to dramatic improvements in the neuroscience community’s ability to collect and analyze big data to improve understanding of early brain development and establish a clearer link to disorders that may originate from the earliest stages of life.
Alexander Schier, Ph.D., Leo Erikson Life Sciences Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology, Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, Center for Brain Science, Harvard University
Recording the history of neuronal activity through genome editing
Dr. Schier’s lab is pursuing a novel technology to test whether genomic editing technologies can record the history of neuronal activity. The proposed approach, called GESTARNA (for genome editing of synthetic target arrays for recording neuronal activity), has the long-term potential to record neuronal activity of millions of neurons over extended periods. Using zebrafish as the model system, the tools and concepts generated by Dr. Schier and his team could eventually be applied to other neuronal systems in which genome editing and next-generation sequencing is possible. A past recipient of McKnight Foundation support, Schier earned early career recognition as a McKnight Scholar (1999-2002), and was a recipient of the Brain Disorders Award (2006-2008).