From the Archives: Imaging Depression

This month, Helen Mayberg and her colleagues published a study suggesting that patterns of brain connectivity may predict which people with depression would respond best to talk therapy and which would do better with a drug. This video clip from Fox5 Atlanta describes the study, and shows what it could mean to people who need help for their depression.

Our first work with Mayberg, now a member of the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives, was more than a decade ago, when she was using first positron emission tomography and then deep brain stimulation for treatment-resistant depression (Dana grants in 2006, 2010). She spoke with us about this work in 2012:

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Artificial Intelligence, Avatars, and the Future

Most people first heard the word “avatar” from James Cameron’s Avatar, one of the top grossing films of all time. Some consider avatars an extension of the self that can save the world in the context of virtual reality or a video game. In Hinduism, avatars are considered incarnations of deities or immortals. The Hindu god Vishnu, for example, has many avatars, including the Buddha.

Helping to sort out the avatar conundrum and the fascinating field of artificial intelligence was a Brainwave series program at the Rubin Museum of Art in NYC last Wednesday night. The program—“A.I. and Avatar: The New Explorers,”— began with a head-spinning question: “Can machines and other avatars expand the human experience—and perhaps even take our minds to the stars?”

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Brain Awareness Week Partner Interview: Sung-Jin Jeong, Ph.D.

This is the second in a series of Brain Awareness Week (BAW) partner interviews, in which partners share their BAW experiences and tips for planning successful events. Sung-Jin Jeong, Ph.D., is the principal researcher/director of the Neuronal Development and Disease Department/Brain Research Policy Center at the Korea Brain Research Institute.

sung-jin jeong baw partnerThe Brain Awareness Week effort in Korea is a large coordinated effort by several organizations, including the Korea Brain Research Institute, that has reached around 4,000 people the last several years. How difficult is it to reach consensus among the organizers when planning such a large program? Are there any tips you can give?

Since 2002, the Korean neuroscience community has actively participated in Brain Awareness Week (BAW), enhancing the public understanding on neuroscience and scientific value. Over the years, a series of events hosted by more than 15 universities and research institutes throughout the country have become more dynamic and exciting, attracting over 3,000 participants yearly. Korean Brain Society and Korea Brain Research Institute (KBRI) are co-organizers, playing a central role in gathering national brain research capacity and strengthening the cooperative network for the annual BAW event.

When planning for such a large program, it is indeed challenging to reach consensus among many relevant institutes. It is critical, however, to induce inter-organizational cooperation and reach consensus encompassing organizers’ needs. We try to make things work by weaving together everyone’s best ideas and key concerns before making major decisions on topics and planning programs.  Over the last few years, main topics presented during BAW were Brain Navigation (2014); Brain, the universe of our mind (2015); and What is Brain Research? (2016).  Fortunately, we have so far had fruitful outcomes and excellent performances by having the earnest discussions on planning each program and efficient role-sharing. We will do our utmost to continue building interactive partnerships with educational and research institutes nationwide, thus engaging the whole neuroscience community with a lively and successful BAW.
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Neuroethics and the BRAIN Initiative

brain-initiative-neuroethicsNeuroscience “is the science that is going to change the way people live, die, and think about themselves,” said Stanford Law professor Hank Greely during the third annual BRAIN Initiative investigators meeting, held in Bethesda, Md., last week. Research into the workings of the brain raises many ethical questions, some common to bioethics and others—such as questions of agency, consciousness, and identity—that are unique to the brain and central nervous system.

Neuroethics has been mentioned from the first public announcement of the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative in 2013; a BRAINI workgroup is devoted to the topic. It is one of nine BRAIN Initiative priority funding areas for the coming fiscal year (grant info). At this meeting, a regular session was devoted to the topic, featuring five of the members of the workgroup, and it also came up in other sessions.

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Progress in BRAIN Initiative Research

brain_obama_robotics

President Barack Obama fist-bumps the robotic arm of Nathan Copeland during a tour at the White House Frontiers Conference at the University of Pittsburgh, Oct. 13, 2016. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

In the less than three years since the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative was announced, researchers have made measurable progress towards creating new tools and sharpening existing ones to study the brain. Though its goals are long-term, in a few cases this progress already has shown promise in helping people.

These tools “allow us to do things that, in the past, were unimaginable,” said Nora Volkow of the National Institute of Drug Abuse during the third annual BRAIN Initiative investigators meeting, held in Bethesda, Md., this week. For example, imaging tech such as fMRI and PET have enabled us to make maps of brain activity and create a brain atlas of the concentration of serotonin transporters and receptors. But to reach goals as ambitious as characterizing the many types of neurons and other cells in the brain—or even to get a good count of how many types there are—we need to improve both the speed and the resolution of our tools.

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