Funding, Grants & Awards

U Michigan Wins $7.75 Million to Develop Brain Mapping Tools

Researchers at the University of Michigan (U-M) have won $7.75 million in funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to bring together a range of techniques for stimulating and mapping the brain.

The project, "Multimodal Integrated Neural Technologies," won the funding as a NSF NeuroNex Technology Hub and will combine three different technologies developed in the last decade or so.

The newest is a technique that uses microscopic LEDs that are about the same size as brain cells themselves to stimulate mouse neurons through light and then record the response with electrodes. Previous versions of this technique used larger light sources which tended to stimulate neurons around the one being targeted. The cells that cause action, pyramidal neurons, will be genetically modified so that they can respond to the light.

"They are just one of the neuron types we are seeking to map," said John Seymour, a co-investigator and assistant research scientist in electrical engineering and computer science at U-M, in a prepared statement. "If you can record from motor cortex pyramidal neurons, you can predict arm movement."

The second technique is dubbed "Brainbow," a method of genetically modifying brain cells so that they produce different fluorescent tags based on their genetic profile, causing different types of cell to light up in different colors.

The third technique is useful in examining the brain more directly, as it strips away fatty molecules and replaces them with a clear gel, allowing researches to individual neurons.

Researchers at the university are working on other tools to support the work as well, such as smaller and more precise electrodes.

In an effort to share the developments, the team will host workshops for visiting neuroscientists who will also get the hardware and software to run their own experiments. Particularly useful tools will be commercialized in an effort to make them available after the project ends.

About the Author

Joshua Bolkan is contributing editor for Campus Technology, THE Journal and STEAM Universe. He can be reached at jbolkan@gmail.com.

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