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Awardees

2017-2018

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).

2016-2017

Kwanghun Chung, Ph.D.,  Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Multi-scale proteomic reconstruction of cells and their brainwide connectivity

Dr. Chung and his lab are developing new technologies to generate a comprehensive, high-resolution brain map. He will combine new tissue processing technologies with genetic labeling techniques. Current brain mapping is relatively low resolution and incomplete; Chung’s research will allow neuroscientists to interrogate many molecules, cell types, and circuits in single tissues. Dr. Chung hopes that this high resolution, comprehensive brain mapping will accelerate the pace of discovery in a broad range of neuroscience applications and enable scientists to characterize animal disease models in a fast and unbiased way.

Narayanan (Bobby) Kasthuri, Ph.D., MD, University of Chicago and Argonne National Labs

Brain-X: Nanoscale maps of entire brains using synchrotron-based high-energy x-rays

Dr. Kasthuri’s lab is using high energy X-rays to create complete and comprehensive maps of the brain. The stacks of images generated result in staggering amounts of data that can be segmented to identify the location of every neuron, blood vessel, and component of the brain. By generating maps of healthy mice and human brains, scientists can compare them to pathological samples to better understand cellular and ultimately synaptic differences in diseased brains affected by autism, diabetes and stroke, among other diseases.

Stephen Miller, Ph.D., University of Massachusetts Medical School

Overcoming barriers to imaging in the brain

Imaging in the brain is difficult, as many molecular probes are unable to cross the blood-brain barrier (BBB). Dr. Miller and his lab have found ways to improve imaging in the deep tissue of the brain by tapping the bioluminescent properties of the firefly. Miller’s team has modified the natural firefly luciferin substrate to increase its ability to access the brains of live animals. The glow of the brain can be used to detect gene expression, enzyme activity, monitor disease progression, or gauge the effectiveness of new drugs.

2015-2016

Long Cai, Ph.D., California Institute of Technology

Deciphering molecular basis of cell identity in the brain by sequencing FISH

Cai’s lab has developed a high-powered imaging method based on “single molecule fluorescence in situ hybridization,” or smFISH, which makes it possible to look at genetic information (e.g. RNA) within cells. He now seeks to adapt this method to profile gene expression directly in brains at the same high resolution using sequential FISH (seqFISH).

Cynthia Chestek, Ph.D., University of Michigan

High-density 90μ
mpitch carbon microthread array to record every neuron in layer 5

The Chestek lab is developing a way to record and visualize healthy, interconnected, active neurons over a span of time at greater density than ever before. Using minuscule carbon thread electrodes, she plans to record neurons in a rat brain from an array of channels and then to slice the brain to visualize the entire circuit. The goal is to achieve a 64-channel array that can be observed at a high density using a conventional neuroscience connector.

Spencer Smith, Ph.D., University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Multiphoton imaging for large brain volumes

Single neurons act together in complex ways to shape thoughts and behaviors. Multiphoton imaging, which can resolve individual neurons from millimeters away, appears to offer an innovative way to study this process. Drawing on previous research with two-photon microscopy, Spencer’s lab is seeking to build a custom optical system to gain access to 1 million neurons while retaining the ability to observe neurons individually.

2014-2015

Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, Ph.D., The Salk Institute for Biological Studies

Derivation, characterization and gene modification of common marmoset primordial germ cell lines under a novel condition

The Izpisua Belmonte lab is working to shorten the time needed to develop non-human primate animal models—specifically, marmosets. Belmonte has developed a strategy to facilitate generation of transgenic marmoset models using primordial germ cells (PGCs). The research has the potential to offer unlimited cell resources to study primate germ cell development in a dish and, combined with genome editing tools, the approach can help create novel animal models for human diseases.

Sotiris Masmanidis, Ph.D., University of California, Los Angeles

Silicon microprobes for monitoring mesoscale brain dynamics

The Masmanidis lab is developing micromachined silicon-based devices, or microprobes, that can be made widely available through mass production and can record many neurons at one time at millisecond resolution. The microprobes will enable Masmanidis to study how multiple brain cells interact during behavior and learning. In addition, his lab will pioneer techniques to precisely label recording locations, improving the accuracy of mapping brain activity.

Kate O’Connor-Giles, Ph.D., University of Wisconsin, Madison

A CRISPR/Cas9 toolkit for comprehensive neural circuit analysis

O’Connor-Giles seeks to develop modular toolkits to molecularly identify and gain genetic control of neuronal subtypes. These toolkits will provide critical resources for characterizing the functional contributions of genes to neuronal identity and neuronal subtypes to behavior. The O’Connor-Giles lab will employ these same technologies to understand how neurons wire together during development. The work builds on the lab’s recent success adapting CRISPR/Cas9 genome engineering technology in fruit flies.

2013-2014

Thomas R. Clandinin, Ph.D., Stanford University

A genetic method for mapping neuronal networks defined by electrical synapses

Most of the research on brain circuitry has focused on chemical synapses, which are easier to study than electrical synapses. But this incomplete picture of brain wiring hinders efforts to understand changes in brain activity. Clandinin proposes to develop a generalizable,genetic method to determine which neurons connect electrically to others. By the end of the two-year grant period, he expects to have a working set of tool sin fruit flies as well as a survey of specific electrical connections in the fly brain, and analogous tools ready for testing in the mouse.

Matthew J. Kennedy, Ph.D., and Chandra L. Tucker, Ph.D., University of Colorado – Denver

Optical tools to manipulate synapses and circuits

Optogeneticsis a relatively new field that involves controlling neuronal function with light. Kennedy and Tucker hope to broaden the field by engineering new tools that will allow users to use light to control processes downstream from neuronal firing, with a focus on signaling molecules important for synapse formation, elimination and plasticity. They also plan to develop tools that allow users to manipulate the fundamental molecular signaling pathways responsible for learning and memory in the brain.

Zachary A. Knight, Ph.D., University of California – San Francisco

Sequencing neuromodulation with engineered ribosomes

The mammalian brain contains hundreds of neural cell types, each with distinct patterns of gene expression. Knight’s lab is building tools for mapping biochemical events in the mouse brain onto this molecular diversity of cells. He will develop methods for RNA capture that can help determine the molecular identity of the underlying cells. These tools will allow neuroscientists to identify the specific neurons that are modulated during changes in behavior, physiology or disease. These identified cells can then be manipulated genetically to understand their function.

2012-2013

Don B. Arnold, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Molecular & Computational Biology, University of Southern California

Ablating Intrabodies—Tools for Direct Ablation of Endogenous Proteins

Proteins are continually made and degraded in the brain. Dr. Arnold is working on tools to enable scientists to manipulate the process of protein degradation for biomedical research. These tools, known as ablating intrabodies, can mediate the fast, efficient and specific degradation of proteins. A protein might be degraded to test its function in normal cells or investigate the harmful effects of a particular pathological protein—in a neurodegenerative disease, for instance. Currently, scientists can only cause protein ablation indirectly, by deleting either the gene, or the RNA, that encodes the protein. Ablating intrabodies cause the direct degradation of target proteins and thus work much more quickly. They can also target proteins in particular conformations or ones with specific post-translational modifications. Dr. Arnold will test the use of ablating intrabodies by manipulating the protein content of postsynaptic sites to study synaptic function, homeostasis and plasticity within the brain. The research, if it succeeds, could have wide application in the biomedical sciences.

James Eberwine, Ph.D., Professor of Pharmacology, and Ivan J. Dmochowski, Associate Professor of Chemistry, University of Pennsylvania

TIVA-tag Enables True Neuronal Systems Genomics

While it has been possible for several years to study gene expression in individual cells in laboratory cultures, continuing progress in neurobiology requires the ability to examine genetic function and regulation at the systems level, in intact tissues or living organisms. Drs. Eberwine and Dmochowski are working on a method to isolate RNA from live cells through an approach they have pioneered, called TIVA-tag (for Transcriptome In Vivo Analysis). During the grant period, they plan to tailor the chemistry of TIVA-tag compounds to collect RNA from cells with greater specificity, efficiency and less tissue damage than previously possible. By the end of the grant period they intend to have established the TIVA-tag approach as a viable methodology for systems-level genomics.

Doris Tsao, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Biology, California Institute of Technology, and William J. Tyler, Ph.D., Assistant Professor at Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences

Functional Modulation of Intact Primate Brain Circuits using Pulsed Ultrasound

Neuroscience is missing a tool for noninvasively stimulating specific 3D loci anywhere in the human brain. Previous work by Dr. Tyler showed that ultrasonic neuromodulation can noninvasively stimulate neurons in the living mouse brain. The next step is to characterize how ultrasound affects a non-human primate, the macaque, whose brain is larger and more complex than that of the mouse. The researchers plan to observe neuronal responses, cerebral blood flow, and animal behavior during focused ultrasonic neuromodulation. Ultimately, Drs. Tsao and Tyler aim to develop a way to use ultrasound to stimulate specific areas of the human brain, which will provide a powerful new tool for understanding brain circuitry in humans, and provide novel strategies for treating pervasive neurological and psychiatric diseases.

Samuel S.-H. Wang, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Molecular Biology, Princeton University

Transcending the Dynamic Limits of Genetically Encodable Calcium Indicators

Fluorescent proteins that change their brightness when brain cells are active are useful in observing the neural activity underlying perception, memory, and other cognitive processes. Current versions of these proteins respond only sluggishly, on time scales of a second or longer. Dr. Wang’s lab is redesigning these proteins to respond more quickly and for a wider range of activity. Combined with advanced optical methods, such advances will allow small parts of brain tissue to be tracked in the way that fMRI imaging tracks the whole brain—with the advantage that the new method will enable researchers to see single cells and changes occurring over milliseconds. This research is part of a larger effort by neuroscientists to develop technologies to study brain networks while an animal learns, or to see what goes wrong in animals with neurological defects.

2011-2012

Sandra Bajjalieh, Ph.D., Professor of Pharmacology, University of Washington

Developing Biosensors for Signaling Lipids

Changes in membrane lipids play a role in neuronal signaling, but researchers cannot yet reliably track signaling lipid production. Bajjalieh plans to generate sensors to track the generation of signaling lipids in cells in real time. She will engineer proteins that bind to two signaling lipids in the absence of other signals and use them to develop fluorescent probes to track the location of these lipids. This information will make it possible to extend the approach to other lipids.

Guoping Feng, Ph.D., Professor of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, McGovern Institute for Brain Research, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Developing a Molecular, in vivo Tool for Genetic Manipulation of Behaviorally Defined Neuronal Microcircuits Using Coincidence Detection of Activity and Light

To study more closely how the brain processes information, Feng is developing a tool to capture specific neuronal populations activated by animal behaviors within a brief period defined by pulses of light, and select brain cells for genetic alteration based on that activity. These cells can then be tested to assess their involvement in the behavior. If successful, the tool will enable neuroscientists to genetically modify any group of neurons activated by a specific behavior in a precisely defined period.

Feng Zhang, Ph.D., Investigator, McGovern Institute for Brain Research; Core Member, Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard; Assistant Professor of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Precise Genome Engineering Using Designer TAL Effectors Recombinases

Genetic expression is commonly used to identify a neuron’s type, but conventional genetic manipulation is inefficient and is limited largely to the mouse. Zhang is working on a way to modify the genome of neurons using reporter genes that can be introduced into specific cells and brain circuits. This technology would allow human mutations to be introduced into animal models to determine whether genetic mutations cause a disease. The technology will also shorten the time it takes to generate an animal model.

2010-2011

Michael Berry II, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Molecular Biology, Princeton University

Microfabricated patch clamp micropipette

Berry’s lab will develop a microfabricated patch micropipette that will allow novel experiments not possible with conventional glass patch micropipettes, such as the ability to readily control the chemical environment of neurons by rapid dialysis. The device will also be more reliable and simpler to use than existing micropipettes, saving significant time and effort.

Robert Kennedy, Ph.D., Hobart H. Willard Professor of Chemistry & Professor of Pharmacology, University of Michigan

In vivo monitoring of neurotransmitters at high spatial and temporal resolution

To measure neurotransmitters in vivo at high spatial and temporal resolution, Kennedy’s lab is developing a miniaturized probe that can reach into any brain region of the mouse to generate small samples for analysis at frequent intervals. This technology offers a potential breakthrough for neuroscience, because so much genetic work and many disease models are based on the mouse.

Timothy Ryan, Ph.D., Professor of Biochemistry, Weill Cornell Medical College

Development of a synaptic ATP reporter

Ryan’s lab is developing a more accurate way to measure the concentration of ATP in specific neuronal compartments and to obtain dynamic information for monitoring ATP levels during ongoing synaptic communication. This should help determine if fundamental energy imbalances are manifest in various diseases and how ATP supplies are normally regulated at synapses.

W. Daniel Tracey, Ph.D., Professor of Anesthesiology, Cell Biology and Neurobiology, Duke University Medical Center

Genetically encoded rhabdoviruses for functioning mapping of neuronal connectivity

Tracey’s lab is developing a viral gene expression system to explore neural circuits in the fruit fly. The goal is to use it to genetically manipulate nerve cells, trace their connections and manipulate the activity of interconnected neurons. If this is successful with fruit flies, Tracey hopes the same techniques will be useful for studies of mammalian brains.

2009-2010

Joseph Fetcho, Ph.D., Professor of Neurobiology and Behavior, Cornell University

Mapping patterns of synaptic connections in vivo

There is no easy way to reveal all of the nerve cells that connect to another cell while those cells are alive. Working with zebrafish, Fetcho proposes to use optical methods, whereby all of the neurons connected to a particular nerve cell would turn color, to map the pattern of wiring in the intact living nervous system. Ultimately, such an approach could help reveal the patterns of wiring that underlie movement and other behavior.

Pavel Osten, M.D., Ph.D., Associate Professor of Neuroscience, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

Automated high-throughput anatomy for fluorescent mouse brain

Osten’s project seeks to help bridge the gap between the study of molecular and cellular brain functions and the study of the whole brain. Using a novel imaging technology, he is focusing on mapping changes in neural circuits in mice that carry genetic mutations linked to autism and schizophrenia. He hopes the technology will provide a fast, accurate way to study many genetic mouse models to better understand a range of human psychiatric diseases.

Thomas Otis, Ph.D., Professor of Neurobiology, Geffen School of Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles

Development of optical methods for monitoring voltage in groups of neuroanatomically defined neurons

Otis and his colleagues, including co-principal investigator Julio Vergara, have developed a sensor technology that allows nerve impulses to be measured with high fidelity using novel optical methods. The purpose of the grant is to perfect their optical method so that it can track neural activity in many neurons simultaneously.

Larry J. Young, Ph.D., William P. Timmie Professor of Psychiatric and Behavioral Science and Division Chief, Center for Behavioral Neuroscience, Yerkes National Primate Research Center

Development of transgenic technologies in prairie voles for dissecting the genetics and neural circuitry of social bonding

The study of complex social behaviors, such as maternal nurturing and social bonding, is limited by the difficulty of manipulating gene expression to learn how specific genes regulate social behavior. Young aims to generate transgenic prairie voles, which are highly social, and identify the genes responsible for individual variations in social behavior. The research will have particular relevance to such disorders as autism and schizophrenia.

2008-2009

Henry Lester, Ph.D., California Institute of Technology

Ion Channels for Neuronal Engineering

Lester will use ion channels and receptors to gain insight into how neurons are connected within circuits and how such circuits control behavior. He will engineer new receptor channels that respond only to a drug, ivermectin, that can be delivered in an animal’s diet. Once these receptors are developed, it will be possible to study how activating or inhibiting selected neurons influences behavior.

Charles M. Lieber, Ph.D., Harvard University

Nanoelectronic Device Arrays for Electrical and Chemical Mapping of Neural Networks

Lieber plans to develop and demonstrate new nanotechnology-enabled electrophysiology tools to measure electrical and biochemical signaling at the scale of natural synapses, using samples ranging from cultured neural networks to brain tissue. In the long term, these tools may be used as powerful new interfaces between the brain and neural prosthetic devices in biomedical research and, ultimately, treatment.

Fernando Nottebohm Ph.D., Rockefeller University

Development of a Technique for Making Transgenic Songbirds

The study of vocal learning in songbirds provides an excellent way to explore how memories are stored in a complex brain and how damage to the central nervous system can be repaired by neuronal replacement. Nottebohm seeks to develop a protocol for efficient production of transgenic songbirds in order to test the involvement that individual genes might have in learning and brain repair.

Dalibor Sames, Ph.D., and David Sulzer, Ph.D., Columbia University

Development of Fluorescent False Neurotransmitters: Novel Probes for Direct Visualization of Neurotransmitter Release from Individual Presynaptic Terminals

Sames and Sulzer have developed Fluorescent False Neurotransmitters (FFN) that act as optical tracers of dopamine and enable the first means to optically image neurotransmission at individual synapses. Applying FFNs, Sames and Sulzer will develop new optical methods to examine the synaptic changes associated with learning as well as pathological processes relevant to neurological and psychiatric disorders such as Parkinson’s disease and schizophrenia.

2007-2008

Paul Brehm, Ph.D., Oregon Health & Science University

A novel green fluorescent protein from echinoderms provides a long-term record of neuronal network activity

Brehm is exploring a new way to image cellular activity in healthy and diseased tissue. He proposes an alternative to the jellyfish green fluorescent protein—the bioluminescent brittlestar Ophiopsila, whose long-lasting fluorescence in nerve cells can provide a long-term history of their cellular activity.

Timothy Holy, Ph.D., Washington University School of Medicine

High-speed three-dimensional optical imaging of neural activity in intact tissue

Holy is developing optical methods for recording simultaneously from very large populations of neurons by using thin sheets of light that quickly scan brain tissue in three dimensions. If successful, the study may help scientists observe pattern recognition and learning at the cellular level.

Krishna Shenoy, Ph.D., Stanford University

HermesC: A continuous neural recording system for freely behaving primates

Shenoy’s lab is trying to learn more about how neurons act by developing a miniature, head-mounted, high-quality recording system for use on monkeys going about their everyday activities. If successful, this work will create a recording device that can track individual neurons in behaving monkeys for days and weeks.

Gina Turrigiano, Ph.D., Brandeis University

Mapping the position of synaptic proteins using super-resolution fluorescence cryo-microscopy

Turrigiano and her collaborator, David DeRosier, Ph.D., will develop tools to map the way synaptic proteins are arranged into molecular machines that can generate memories and cognitive functions. If this proves successful, they will eventually be able to determine how synapses become disorganized in disease states.

2006-2007

Pamela M. England, Ph.D.,University of California at San Francisco

Monitoring AMPA Receptor Trafficking in Real Time

The England lab will develop a novel set of molecular tools, based on synthetic derivatives of philanthotoxin, that could be used to study the cell surface trafficking of the AMPA subtype of glutamate receptor. The goal is to produce a set of toxin derivatives that will inactivate AMPA receptors with specific subunit compositions, thus enabling pharmacological investigation of the role of these different classes of AMPA receptors in living neurons.

Alan Jasanoff, Ph.D., Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Cellular-Level Functional MRI with Calcium Imaging Agents

Jasanoff will explore a novel method of functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), developed in his lab, based on iron oxide nanoparticles that produce image contrast when they aggregate. If successful, the new method will be a more direct measure of neural activity, with the potential for improved spatial and temporal resolution in fMRI.

Richard J. Krauzlis, Ph.D., and Edward M. Callaway, Ph.D., The Salk Institute for Biological Studies

Using Viral Vectors to Probe Sensory-Motor Circuits in Behaving Non-human Primates

Krauzlis and Callaway will develop a method to inactivate specific subpopulations of neurons in localized regions of the monkey cerebral cortex. If successful, their method will provide a means to assess how specific subpopulations of neurons in different brain regions function in circuits to enable higher brain functions, such as perception, memory and sensory-motor control.

Markus Meister, Ph.D., Cal Tech

Wireless recording of multi-neuronal spike trains in freely moving animals

Meister and his collaborators, Alan Litke of the University of California, Santa Cruz, and Athanassios Siapas of Caltech, will engineer a wireless microelectrode system that will allow the recording of neural electrical signals from freely moving animals without wires attached. Combining technologies for miniaturization and lightweight materials, this system should facilitate the measurement of neural dynamics during truly natural behaviors, such as burrowing, climbing or flying.

2005-2006

Karl Deisseroth, M.D., Ph.D., Stanford University

Noninvasive, High Temporal Resolution Control of Neuronal Activity Using a Light-Sensitive Ion Channel from the Alga C. Reinhardtii

Deisseroth’s lab, including postdoctoral fellow collaborator Edward Boyden, will develop a new tool, based on a genetically encoded light sensitive ion channel from algae, to stimulate electrical activity in specific sets of neurons with light. Their goal is to stimulate individual action potentials with millisecond time precision and to control what neurons are stimulated using genetic methods to target channel protein expression.

Samie R. Jaffrey, M.D., Ph.D., Weill Medical College, Cornell University

Real-time Imaging of RNA in Living Neurons Using Conditionally Fluorescent Small Molecules

Jaffrey’s lab will further develop a system to enable visualization of RNA using live-cell fluorescence microscopy. His technique is based on the construction of short RNA sequences that bind to a fluorophore and greatly increase its light emission. The fluorophore is derived from that used in Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP). The goal is to revolutionize the study of RNA in the same way that GFP technology has revolutionized protein visualization.

Jeff W. Lichtman, M.D., Ph.D., Harvard University Kenneth Hayworth,  Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Janelia Farm Research Campus

Development of an Automatic Tape-collecting Lathe-Ultramicrotome for Large-scale Brain Reconstruction

Hayworth and Lichtman are developing a tool to slice and automatically collect thousands of tissue sections for imaging via transmission electron microscopy (TEM). TEM serial section reconstruction is the only technology proven capable of mapping out, at the finest level of resolution, the exact synaptic connectivity of all the neurons within a volume of brain tissue. But application is limited because the ultrathin sections have to be collected manually. This tool would automate the process, making serial sectioning accessible to many labs and useful on larger tissue volumes.

Alice Y. Ting, Ph.D., Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Imaging Neuronal Protein Trafficking by Optical and Electron Microscopy Using Biotin Ligase Labeling

Ting proposes an improved technology to visualize and quantify membrane protein trafficking. She has developed a highly selective enzyme-based labeling technique by which to distinguish molecules existing on neuron surfaces before a stimulus from those appearing after the stimulus. The spatial distribution of labeled molecules can then be observed with optical imaging and, with some modifications, can also be seen in higher resolution with electron microscopy.

2004-2005

E.J. Chichilnisky, Ph.D., The Salk Institute
A.M. Litke, Ph.D., Santa Cruz Institute for Particle Physics

Probing the Retina

Chichilnisky, a neurobiologist, and Litke, an experimental physicist, are collaborating on technology to record and stimulate electrical activity in hundreds of neurons at a time on a fine spatial and temporal scale. This will enable them to study how large populations of neurons process and encode information to control perception and behavior. They first plan to study the retina, and, in turn, other neural systems.

Daniel T. Chiu, Ph.D., University of Washington

Spatially and Temporally Resolved Delivery of Stimuli to Single Neuronal Cells

Nanocapsules are extraordinarily small “shells” that can contain something as minute as a molecule and deliver it to a selected target. Chiu is developing and perfecting new types of nanocapsules and refining existing ones to study how a single neuronal cell processes the arrival of a signal at its membrane surface. Nanocapsules will be useful in mapping cell surface proteins and probing how receptors send signals and trigger synaptic transmission.

Susan L. Lindquist, Ph.D., Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research

Development and Use of Yeast Model Systems for Neurodegenerative Diseases and High Throughput Screening

Lindquist proposes to examine neurodegenerative diseases by studying the genes in baker’s yeast. Because of the great success her lab has had using yeast as a model system to study Parkinson’s disease, she plans to extend the model to two more classes of disease-the tauopathies (including Alzheimer’s) and spinocerebeller ataxia-3.

Daniel L. Minor, Jr., Ph.D., University of California, San Francisco

Directed Evolution of Ion Channel Modulators from Natural and Designed Libraries

Minor is working on a new approach to identify molecules that block or open ion channels, the proteins that are the key to electrical signaling in the brain. He will study natural peptides from venomous creatures and will make venom-like molecules for testing. Creating molecules that mimic those in nature and making them widely available will accelerate the search for drugs that may act upon specific ion channels.

Stephen J. Smith, Ph.D., Stanford University School of Medicine

Methods for the Delineation of Brain Circuitry by Serial-Sectioning Scanning Electron Microscopy

Smith is designing tools to enable neuroscience to benefit from what he calls the microscope of the 21st century, invented by his collaborator, Winfried Denk, Ph.D., a biophysicist at the Max Planck Institute. They are developing automated Serial-Sectioning Scanning Electron Microscopy (S3EM) methods that, for the first time, will provide the capacity to analyze complete brain circuits in minute detail. Smith is developing ways to stain brain tissues for analysis with this microscope, and computational tools to analyze the immense volume of information the new techniques will yield.

2003-2004

Stuart Firestein, Ph.D., Columbia University

A Genetically Encoded Optical Sensor of Membrane Voltage

Firestein and his collaborator, Josef Lazar, Ph.D., propose to test a new type of voltage-sensing protein that may be able to detect very small electrical events and to visualize voltage changes in a large number of cells simultaneously. This would promote a level of investigation into information processing in the brain that is currently beyond reach.

David Heeger, Ph.D., New York University

High-Resolution fMRI

Heeger and his collaborator, Souheil Inati, Ph.D., along with Stanford University scientists John Pauly and David Ress, plan to take a new approach to improving spatial resolution of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to enable it too routinely acquire fMRI data at extremely high resolution. The team aims to help solve some of the fundamental problems with conventional MRI.

Paul Slesinger, Ph.D., Mount Sinai/Icahn School of Medicine

G Protein Receptor Energy Transfer (GRET) System for Monitoring Signal Transduction in Neurons

Modulation of nerve cell communication occurs when chemical neurotransmitters bind to specific types of G protein-coupled neurotransmitter receptors (GPCR) that, in turn, activate G proteins. To study dynamic changes in G protein activity during nerve cell communication, Slesinger proposes to develop a protein-based, fluorescent detector for G proteins that is based on the property of fluorescence resonance energy transfer (FRET).

2002-2003

Bernardo Sabatini, M.D., Ph.D., Harvard Medical School

Optical Tools for the Analysis of Protein Translation in Extrasomatic Neuronal Compartments

To explore how neurons establish communication channels and how the brain stores and recalls information, Sabatini is developing molecules that emit light when neurons make proteins, and a microscope to view the process deep within the living brain.

Karel Svoboda, Ph.D., Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

Regulation of Synaptic Transmission in vivo with High Spatial and Temporal Specificity

Svoboda is developing molecular tools to further the understanding of how synapses organize brain circuitry.

Liqun Luo, Ph.D., Stanford University

Single Neuron Labeling and Genetic Manipulation in Mice

Luo is working on a genetic method to manipulate and trace single neurons in mice to learn how neural networks are assembled during development and later modified by experience.

A. David Redish, Ph.D.; Babak Ziaie, Ph.D.; and Arthur G. Erdman, Ph.D., University of Minnesota

Wireless Recording of Neural Ensembles in Awake, Behaving Rats

The collaborators-a neuroscientist, an electrical engineer, and a mechanical engineer-are developing a wireless method of recording neuronal spike trains from awake, behaving rats to enhance understanding of learning and behavior.

2001-2002

Helen M. Blau, Ph.D., Stanford University

Minimally Invasive, Regulated Gene Delivery to the Central Nervous System

Blau’s lab is investigating a novel means of delivering therapeutic genes to the central nervous system, using bone marrow cells engineered with genes capable of targeting disease.

Graham C.R. Ellis-Davies, Ph.D., MCP Hahnemann University

Functional Imaging of Neuroreceptors in Living Brain Slices by Two-photon Uncaging of Neurotransmitters

Ellis-Davies is developing innovative methods to make images of aspects of brain function that have not been seen before, devising a form of neurotransmitters that remain biologically inert until activated by an intense flash of focused light.

Dwayne Godwin, Ph.D., Wake Forest University School of Medicine

Unveiling Chains of Functional Connectivity with Viral DNA

By injecting cells with viral DNA, chemically marking the virus, and tracing its spread to connected cells, Godwin is exploring new ways to reveal how nerve cells in the brain send and receive messages.

Seong-Gi Kim, Ph.D., University of Minnesota Medical School

Development of In Vivo Perfusion-based Columnar-resolution fMRI

Kim is working to increase the power of functional magnetic resonance imaging to study brain activity in greater detail.

2000-2001

Stephen Lippard, Ph.D., Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Synthetic Chemistry to Develop Zinc Sensors to Probe Neurochemical Signaling

Lippard is synthesizing novel fluorescent sensors that will detect zinc ions and nitric oxide in living cells and reveal their spatial pattern.

Partha Mitra, Ph.D., and Richard Andersen, Ph.D., California Institute of Technology

Developing Techniques to Record and Read-out Population Codes in Real Time from the Parietal Reach Region

Mitra and Andersen use mathematical techniques to analyze the activity of ensembles of neurons, hoping ultimately to decode the relationship between neural activity and behavior.

William Newsome, Ph.D., and Mark Schnitzer, Ph.D., Stanford University School of Medicine

In Vivo Brain Dynamics Studied with Fiber Optics and Optical Coherence Tomography

Schnitzer and Newsome (who received a special, $50,000 award) are studying brain dynamics by localizing recording sites, mapping the distribution of molecular markers, and monitoring patterns of brain activity by the precise use of light.

Timothy Ryan, Ph.D., Weill Medical College of Cornell University, and Gero Miesenböck, Ph.D., Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center

Design and Application of pH-based Optical Sensing of Synaptic Activity

The scientists are developing novel fluorescent indicators of synaptic activity based on sensitivity to changes in acidity.

Daniel Turnbull, Ph.D., New York University School of Medicine

In Vivo µMR Imaging of Neuronal Migration in the Mouse Brain

Turnbull is working on a new imaging method to visualize the migration of neurons in the developing mouse brain, labeling new neurons and following them in intact animals over several days with magnetic resonance microimaging.

1999-2000

Michael E. Greenberg, Ph.D., and Ricardo E. Dolmetsch, Ph.D., Boston Children’s Hospital

New Technologies for Studying the Temporal and Spatial Control of Transcription and Translation in Intact Neurons

The scientists are developing a method to visualize gene activity in living nerve cells, using molecular amplifiers and fluorescence detection, to see how genes affect one another.

Paul W. Glimcher, Ph.D., New York University

Experimental Neurosonography

Glimcher’s research explores diagnostic ultrasound to make possible the precise placement of recording electrodes in the brains of awake, active primates.

Leslie C. Griffith, M.D., Ph.D., and Jeffrey C. Hall, Ph.D., Brandeis University

Real-time Signal Transduction Sensors

Griffith and Hall are developing genetic sensors that can be introduced into individual nerve cells of living fruit flies, in an effort to determine when a cell is recruited to perform its behavioral role.

Warren S. Warren, Ph.D., Princeton University

Zero Quantum Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging

Warren’s bold initiative seeks to make fMRI more powerful, increasing its resolution more than 100 times, allowing it to reveal active areas of the brain in far greater detail and with better contrast.