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NIH Awards $2M To UCSD Neuroscientists

Researchers can currently observe small groups of neurons firing in real-time. But they're hoping to get bigger pictures by developing better brain imaging technology through the BRAIN initiative.
Salk Institute
Researchers can currently observe small groups of neurons firing in real-time. But they're hoping to get bigger pictures by developing better brain imaging technology through the BRAIN initiative.
NIH Awards $2M To UCSD Neuroscientists
NIH Awards $2M To UCSD Neuroscientists GUEST: Brenda Bloodgood, co-director, San Diego Brain Consortium

This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. From the start of the Obama administrations brain initiative three years ago San Diego researchers have taken a leadership role in the project to better understand how the brain works. This week four teams of scientists were awarded another two-point $3 million in federal grants to continue the research. Joining me is Brenda Bloodgood , co-director, San Diego Brain Consortium. Welcome to the program. I'm glad to be here. Give us a quick overview of the research that got a funding boost this week. Scientists are creating maps of brain stems. Why is unimportant? The brainstem is a most important regions of the brain. It controls all of our automatic functions our breathing, heart rate, blood pressure. In spite of the importance of these functions, we still know very little about how they are wired together and regulated. Another project will use pulses of light for deeper brain imaging. Can you tell us about that? This is a very important problem in neuroscience. If you're trying to understand how a circuit works a strategy that you can use is try to image the circuit. Imaging techniques allow you to see what is on the surface of the brain, but much harder to image what his deeper in the brain. The tissue is very dense and scatters light. So they're working on developing new strategies that will allow us to image deeper into the brains of animals. You are the codirector of the brain consortium. So what are the roles you play is helping scientists actually find commercial applications for their work. For many years, that was seen as something scientists would not do. They were in it for the research. What has changed? There is an important cultural shift that is happening right now. So for long time scientists were in this ivory tower where they felt like they needed to be in the lab and focus on the basic science and the idea of bringing what they found in the lab into commercial endeavors was a little bit stigmatize. The run lots of barriers to doing this. Now people are realizing that the more that you can take your discoveries and bring them into an entrepreneurial setting the more broadly they can be disseminated, the more widely they can be used by many groups, and the larger impact you can have on humanity. So the San Diego Brain Consortium is really trying to impact humanity and make neurotechnology and economic driver in San Diego, and trying to do this by finding some of the bows cutting-edge and revolutionary ideas for developing new neurotechnology's and fostering the development of these ideas than helping the scientists bridge into the entrepreneurial universe. Are any of them bridging at this point? Is or anything to bridge at these early stages? Well, everything takes time, of course. There are exciting technologies that have been in the pipeline for a couple of years that are hopefully going to get to that point soon. So good example of this would a new strategies for recording the activity of many neuron's in parallel. Up until the past decade or so, if a neuroscientist want to record the activity of a neuron to understand how it is working in a circuit, they would drop in electoral in the brain and record the activity from the cell or maybe a small number of cells. Over the past two years, the elegy has improved so you can record from hundreds of cells but in the brain we have 80 or 90 billion cells Perick -- so to understand how a circuit works you really need to be able to record from thousands of neurons. So there is technology that's been developed now were basically a mesh of electrodes can be put on the surface of the brain or embedded into deeper structures of the brain that will allow scientists to record from thousands of neurons at one-time or record for neuron sat in very different regions of the brain. These technologies are being tested and developed in the lab. This takes time. Their efforts to bring the technologies to be able to record from human so example, if a person is having seizures and they're going to have surgery to reset the regional of the brain, you can implant electrodes in the person's brain and try to wrap with their -- map where they are coming from. These technologies are being developed in the lab and being used in the clinic and hopefully will see them being brought into the entrepreneurial space very soon. Is the Goal 4 Sunday go to become known as a neurotech cup in the same way that we are known as a biotech hub? Absolutely. So when I envisioned a feature for San Diego neurotechnology, I would like San Diego and your technology to be as synonymous as Silicon Valley with the information technology. We have incredible intellectual infrastructure here with the various universities and research into two since -- research institutions. Right now what we are trying to is build bridges that allow the scientists to develop and build this neurotechnology economic drive. I've been speaking with Brenda Bloodgood, co-director, San Diego Brain Consortium. Thank you so much. Thank you.

The National Institutes of Health on Thursday awarded four brain research teams at UC San Diego $2.27 million, part of a federal project launched in 2014 to learn more about basic neurobiology.

UC San Diego has received more than $6 million under the BRAIN Initiative since 2014. The latest round of funding will help neuroscientists create detailed maps of brain stems, which regulate things like breathing and swallowing, and use pulses of light to allow for better brain imaging.


"In order to understand how the human brain works, we have to map its functions in all of their complexity," said Brenda Bloodgood, co-director of the San Diego Brain Consortium. That group is a joint project between UC San Diego, San Diego State University, the Salk Institute and the Neurosciences Institute. "The brain stem controls some of the most basic functions of our body: blood pressure, breathing. We don’t know much about how the neurons are connected to drive these functions."

Bloodgood and other neuroscientists are hoping the funding eventually leads to a "neurotech" industry in San Diego to rival its biotech economy, with researchers commercializing some of the technology already being built in their labs.

"Some of the excitement comes from new ways to measure the brain's activity," UC San Diego's Kavli Institute for Brain and Mind director Nick Spitzer said. "Some of these are almost ready to deliver at this point."

Bloodgood said selling some of these tools could help labs around the world gain access to technology they're unable to fabricate on their own.

She joins KPBS Midday Edition on Friday to discuss what other technology is being developed in San Diego and how large the industry could become.

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