Understanding the Brain-Body Connection
Moments after an earthquake, seismologists track seismic waves captured on ground-based sensors to pinpoint the quake's epicenter. Could the same concept be applied to identify where a neurological signal originates within the brain? A $1.8 million National Science Foundation project led by bioengineering professor Gert Cauwenberghs could answer this question. The work is focused on improving our understanding of how the brain controls the body— from the firing of a single neuron, to multiple neurons acting collectively, to the whole body's response. Understanding this sequence of events is key to identifying the origins of neurological diseases such as Parkinson's and developing new therapies. Cauwenberghs is working with Cognionics, a startup co-founded by alumnus Yu Mike Chi (Ph.D. '11), which has developed a wireless, dry EEG headset that tracks brainwaves in real time as the wearer performs common tasks such as walking or sleeping in a realistic setting outside the lab. The team is using a statistical analysis method developed by Tim Mullen and Christian Kothe at the UC San Diego Swartz Center for Computational Neuroscience to take those EEG data and make inferences about network activity inside the brain. Their combined brain imaging system was recently highlighted by National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins in congressional testimony about the potential impact of neurotechnology research on health and economic development.