UC Davis funds BRAIN-STIM program to uncover potential treatments for neurodegenerative disorders

In 2013, President Obama announced the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative, unveiling plans to make a bold investment to understand the human mind with the intent to uncover ways to prevent, treat and cure brain disorders like Alzheimer's, autism, and epilepsy.

UC Davis answered the call with the BRAIN-STIM: Grand Challenge Initiative in Brain Science to identify and support innovative interdisciplinary projects with the potential for high-impact discoveries in brain science. Five teams will receive up to $200,000 each over a two-year period.

"The BRAIN-STIM program will help to stimulate interdisciplinary neuroscience research across the campus and enable UC Davis neuroscientists and collaborators to develop compelling preliminary data to support applications for Brain Initiative awards from the National Institutes of Health and other sponsors," said Cameron Carter, executive director of the Behavioral Health Center for Excellence at UC Davis. "The center is excited to partner with Vice Chancellor Harris Lewin and his team at the Office of Research in supporting these awards."

Nineteen proposals were received from a diverse array of UC Davis researchers in areas including molecular and cellular investigations, imaging paradigms, analysis tools, and recording and modulation. All proposals went through a rigorous review process led by an external panel of distinguished scientists from a broad range of disciplines. The most competitive proposals described transformative research with the potential to lead to paradigm shifts within the field and defined a strong plan for advancement beyond the initial funding period.

"Our goal with the BRAIN-STIM program is ensure that UC Davis researchers can conduct high-risk, high-impact experiments that will lead to significant innovations in treating neurodegenerative, behavioral and mental disorders," said Harris Lewin, vice chancellor for research at UC Davis. "With funding going to faculty at our three leading interdisciplinary centers conducting research in these areas, the MIND Institute, the Center for Mind and Brain, and the Center for Neuroscience, our campus is ideally positioned to be among the world's leading institutions in the effort to map the human brain."

The funding, which comes jointly from the Office of Research and the Behavioral Health Center for Excellence (through funds established from the State of California and directed for mental health research and health care improvement), will allow interdisciplinary research teams to provide the proof of principle with preliminary data that is vital to secure funding from the Obama BRAIN Initiative.

Vice Chancellor Lewin and Executive Director Carter are pleased to announce the BRAIN-STIM award recipients:

William DeBello (associate professor of neurobiology, physiology and behavior) - "Neurorealistic simulation of learned behavior"

DeBello and his team will utilize a known model of learning to explore the use of simulation techniques to accelerate the mapping of neural networks. The hope is that this information will lead to the next big advance in computing, running biologically inspired algorithms on biologically inspired hardware. Such architectures have potential to radically lower power consumption and contribute massively parallel processing capabilities for increased simultaneous computation that will greatly augment what is possible in today's computers and mobile platforms.

Paul Hagerman (professor of biochemistry and molecular medicine) - "CLARITY and STED shed light on neurodegenerative disorders"

Investigating ways to identify the initial triggering events that give rise to the neurodegenerative disorder fragile X-associated tremor/ataxia syndrome (FXTAS) will be the focus of this team. FXTAS may be one of the most common adult-onset, single-gene neurological diseases. Symptoms include tremors, instability, and difficulty with coordinated muscle movements like walking. Hagerman's group plans to employ a novel genetic sequencing approach in combination with state-of-the-art microscopy imaging to better understand the mechanisms and pathways that lead to the disease, which could later serve as a starting point for therapeutic intervention.

Johannes Hell (professor of pharmacology) - "Detection of endogenous PSD-95, α-actinin and other proteins and their interactions in live cells by fluorescent peptides"

The objective of this team will be to pioneer a novel imaging method to map brain connectivity on a molecular level. More specifically, the team will explore the dynamic interactions between synaptic proteins and binding partners, as well as identify when and where they occur. Most major synaptic proteins have been identified, but their precise localization and dynamics at various synapses is almost completely unknown.

Kimberley McAllister (professor of neurology and neurobiology, physiology and behavior) - "The functional synaptome: a novel screen for molecular signatures of functional synaptic state to bridge connectomics and large-scale recordings in mapping the brain"

Tackling a major challenge in neuroscience, McAllister's team endeavors to develop an approach to identify molecular markers of the functional state of synapses that can be used for large-scale functional mapping of the brain. The project, aims to provide critical information about the brain's circuits needed for mapping, a fundamental goal of the BRAIN Initiative.

Martin Usrey (professor of neurology and neurobiology, physiology and behavior) - "Single-neuron transcriptome classification of primate visual pathways"

Usrey's team plans the first study of its kind on the primate retina, designed to establish the molecular identity of each of the 19 ganglion cell types that give rise to the optic nerve. By establishing the functionally diverse pathways in the primate visual system, the team hopes to get a better understanding of the intrinsic circuitry of the eye and its role in human vision as well as contribute to the broader goal of regenerating retinal circuits damaged by blinding retinal degenerative disease.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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