A group of scientists at the University of Michigan have succeeded in using functional magnetic resonance imaging to tease apart the brain’s consistent response to physical pain from its very similar response to emotional pain. The result is a moving picture of physical pain that allowed the researchers to predict with remarkable accuracy whether the individual whose brain they were watching was experiencing intense physical pain, the sensation of a warm spot on his arm, or the sting of social rejection.
The study – known as the Developing Human Connectome Project – hopes to look at more than 1,500 babies, studying many aspects of their neurological development.
By examining the brains of babies while they are still growing in the womb, as well as those born prematurely and at full term, the scientists will try to define baselines of normal development and investigate how these may be affected by problems around birth.
Thank you, President Obama.
Today at the White House, President Obama unveiled the “BRAIN” Initiative—a bold new research effort to revolutionize our understanding of the human mind and uncover new ways to treat, prevent, and cure brain disorders like Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, autism, epilepsy, and traumatic brain injury.
The Initiative promises to accelerate the invention of new technologies that will help researchers produce real-time pictures of complex neural circuits and visualize the rapid-fire interactions of cells that occur at the speed of thought.
The BRAIN Initiative is launching with approximately $100 million in funding for research supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and the National Science Foundation (NSF) in the President’s Fiscal Year 2014 budget.
Ed Boyden at MIT pioneered Optogenetics–using light to manipulate the brain. ApplySci described MIT’s latest Optogenetics chip in our post of 12/4/12. Today, at least 1,000 neuroscience groups worldwide are using Optogenetics to study the brain. Professor Boyden compares his work to that of a philosopher and is a recipient of the 2013 Grete Lundbeck European Brain Research Prize. Being able to turn individual cells on and off could be powerful in finding therapies for brain disorders.
Sleep helps us to learn. It may just be too hard for a brain to take in the flood of new experiences and make sense of them at the same time. Instead, our brains look at the world for a while and then shut out new input and sort through what they have seen.
Both children and adults who had more slow-wave sleep–an especially deep, dreamless kind of sleep–learned better.
Redundancy is arriving to commercial electrical circuits. A circuit, reminiscent of neural computation, enables backup circuitry to be engaged when main functioning breaks.
The National Football League and GE announced a $60 million effort to speed up research into brain injuries and the development of new technologies to help protect the brain from traumatic injury to benefit athletes, the military and the broader public.
The initiative includes a $40 million research program into imaging technologies to improve diagnoses and an additional $20 million pool of funds open to researchers and businesses trying to improve the prevention, identification and management of brain injuries.
A proposed effort to map brain activity on a large scale, expected to be announced by the White House later this month, could help neuroscientists understand the origins of cognition, perception, and other phenomena. These brain activities haven’t been well understood to date, in part because they arise from the interaction of large sets of neurons whose coordinated efforts scientists cannot currently track.
An article published Thursday in Science online expands the project’s already ambitious goals beyond just recording the activity of all individual neurons in a brain circuit simultaneously. Researchers should also find ways to manipulate the neurons within those circuits and understand circuit function through new methods of data analysis and modeling.
Electrically stimulating the brain may improve memory, but impede with a person’s ability to react without thinking.
The approach has previously been shown to enhance various brain functions, including working memory and attention, and is being used to help stroke patients regain lost language and motor skills (see “Repairing the Stroke-Damaged Brain”). But until now, little research had been done on whether improving performance on one task would come at the detriment of others.
Johns Hopkins engineers have developed a powerful new computer-based process that helps identify the dangerous conditions that lead to concussion-related brain injuries.
Professor K.T. Ramesh led a team that used a technique called diffusion tensor imaging, together with a computer model of the head, to identify injured axons, which are tiny but important fibers that carry information from one brain cell to another. These axons are concentrated in a kind of brain tissue known as “white matter,” and they appear to be injured during the so-called mild traumatic brain injury associated with concussions. Ramesh’s team has shown that the axons are injured most easily by strong rotations of the head, and the researchers’ process can calculate which parts of the brain are most likely to be injured during a specific event.