Remote Brain Cell Control Project Wins BRAIN Funding

October 30, 2014

Research associate Sarah Stanley from Rockefeller University’s Laboratory of Molecular Genetics recently was awarded a $1.26 million, three year grant for her research on turning neurons on and off with radiogenics. The funding comes as part of President Barack Obama’s Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies, or BRAIN, initiative.

The BRAIN initiative was announced in April, 2013 with funding and cooperation from the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the National Institutes of Health, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity. The executive branch explained that this investment in brain-focused science is aimed to combat common disorders, including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.

“The BRAIN initiative has the potential to do for nueroscience what the Human Genome Project did for genomics by supporting the development and application of innovative technologies that can create a dynamic understanding of brain function,” the executive branch wrote on the White House website.

Stanley’s “innovative” approach to studying the brain is one of the 58 projects that the NIH has helped fund as part of this initiative.

“Francis Collins, director of the NIH, has discussed the need for studying the circuitry of the brain, which is formed by interconnected neurons. Our remote-control technology may provide a tool with which researchers can ask new questions about the roles of complex circuits in regulating behavior,” Stanley said in a press release.

Without requiring any surgery or invasive procedures, Stanley’s research aims to use a radio waves and magnetic fields to manipulate neurons like light switches. The Rockefeller University explained that this technology could potentially allow scientists to study “free moving” animals’ brain cells. Although similar techniques already exist for using waves on brain cells, Stanley’s nanoparticle version is unique and could potentially be used for therapy, targeted treatments or whole-brain applications.

BRAIN-y Baylor University projects

Many labs across the U.S. have been able to take advantage of this new government funding to tackle a range of neurobiology topics. Baylor University’s labs had three researchers receive funding for their research recently.

Andreas Tolias at Baylor University was awarded a BRAIN grant from the NIH, while the university’s McNair scholar Xaq Pitkow and associate professor Dora Angelaki received Early Concept Grants for Exploratory Research from the NSF.

Tolias received the $4.2 million for a new light-emitting and -sensing device that will help record and research the ways cells process information through interaction. Pitkow and Angelaki received $300,000 for an innovative virtual reality machine that allows researchers to experience neural activity during complex tasks.