The National Science Foundation has awarded $6 million to researchers in Kentucky, Oklahoma and Rhode Island to develop innovative and broadly accessible brain imaging technologies to provide insight into how the nervous system functions in health and disease.
The project is a collaborative effort between principal investigators at the University of Kentucky, University of Oklahoma, and the University of Rhode Island, which is leading the interdisciplinary consortium. The goal is to establish a powerful technology platform with innovative tools to image, sense, record, and affect real-time brain function and complex behavior.
Other institutions participating on specific projects within the consortium include Kentucky State University (KSU), University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, Laureate Institute for Brain Research, and The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University/Rhode Island Hospital.
"The technology that is developed may be the engine for other health-related grants or diagnostic/therapeutic tools that are meant to improve quality of life for patients who endure brain-related ailments such as stroke, spinal cord injury, sleep disorders, or epilepsy," said Sridhar Sunderam, assistant professor in the UK Department of Biomedical Engineering and co-principal investigator of the project.
Specifically, the consortium will develop an integrated, noninvasive, portable, multimodal system with hardware and algorithms for brain imaging and stimulation that incorporate functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS), Laplacian electroencephalography using tripolar concentric ring electrodes (tEEG), and transcranial focal electrical stimulation (TFS). These will be utilized in neuroscience research projects that cover both basic science and clinical applications.
The Rhode Island team will focus on hardware development while the Kentucky and Oklahoma teams develop algorithms and explore applications that could benefit from the integrated systems to be developed.
The team at UK, led by Sunderam, includes Abhijit Patwardhan, professor and director of graduate studies in the Department of Biomedical Engineering; Guoqiang Yu, associate professor of biomedical engineering; and Bruce O'Hara, professor in the Department of Biology.
Brain-machine interfaces (BMIs) are increasingly being used not only as assistive devices for individuals with motor impairment, but also to augment rehabilitative treatment and to interact with media such as video games. Sunderam will develop algorithms and test interactive protocols for modulating the sensorimotor rhythm of the brain using a BMI. He will also oversee the UK portion of the award.
Patwardhan will focus on cardiac entrainment by auditory stimuli. Studies show that rhythmic components in music affect cardiovascular and cerebrovascular regulation, yet the mechanisms remain poorly understood. Patwardhan's team will quantify in young adults the entrainment between rhythms in neural, cardiovascular and respiratory patterns as a response to music.
Yu and O'Hara will contribute their expertise in optical imaging and cognitive neuroscience respectively, to the above projects. The investigations will include a comparison of hardware developed by the Rhode Island team with off-the-shelf equipment for fNIRS and EEG imaging.
The UK team also plans to involve other personnel and several students at UK and KSU. From undergraduate students with an interest in neural engineering to graduate students and postdoctoral scholars, others on campus will have the opportunity to participate in exciting projects related to brain imaging and function.
"An integral part of the plan is to perform educational activities across the spectrum that will spark an abiding interest in brain science in students of the Commonwealth and develop the skilled manpower and infrastructure needed to serve future industries and academic endeavors in this area," Sunderam said.