In Penn State’s newest and most advanced research building, a new program is taking shape that, if successful, will revolutionize the ways in which we interact with the human brain. Led by Srinivas Tadigadapa, an electrical engineer, and Steve Schiff, a neurosurgeon with a background in physics and control engineering, this ambitious project exemplifies the convergence of research fields that are typically separated by distinct disciplinary boundaries.
In 2013, the Obama White House laid out a grand challenge to “accelerate the development and application of new technologies that will enable researchers to produce dynamic pictures of the brain that show how individual brain cells and complex neural circuits interact at the speed of thought.” Called the BRAIN Initiative, it is a 12-year plan to fund research into understanding the brain on multiple levels, using a variety of new and developing technologies. With these tools, it is hoped that the many diseases and malfunctions that afflict the brain can be controlled or eliminated. Schiff and Tadigadapa recently won one of Penn State’s two exploratory BRAIN awards.
A transdisciplinary team to solve a monumental problem
Steve Schiff has the soothing voice and gentle manner of someone who has spent a large part of his career dealing with children, and frequently, children in pain. As a pediatric neurosurgeon, he has leant his skills and bedside manner to treating diseases of the brain in children, but as a researcher he is adding another skill set, one based on his background in engineering and physics, to develop technology to understand and control diseases of the brain.
Schiff is director of the Penn State Center for Neural Engineering, a lab that takes up an entire floor of the Life Sciences wing of the Millennium Science Complex on Penn State’s University Park campus. A series of card-swipe controlled laboratories make up the 11,000-square-foot Center, with facilities for the construction of custom electronics, live animal imaging, surgery, and advanced computerized microscopy. His Center colleagues include medical doctors, engineers and biomedical engineers, and the graduate students they are training.
In the Materials wing of the building in a basement micro and nanoscale devices laboratory, Tadigadapa’s group is developing microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) that miniaturize device arrays for sensing and actuating, some of which the team hopes will one day be implanted into the human skull in order to explore the brain on a cell-by-cell basis.
Brain scans may identify children who are vulnerable to depression, before symptoms appear
A new brain imaging study from MIT and Harvard Medical School may lead to a screen that could identify children at high risk of developing depression later in life.
In the study, the researchers found distinctive brain differences in children known to be at high risk because of family history of depression. The finding suggests that this type of scan could be used to identify children whose risk was previously unknown, allowing them to undergo treatment before developing depression, says John Gabrieli, the Grover M. Hermann Professor in Health Sciences and Technology and a professor of brain and cognitive sciences at MIT.
Read more: Diagnosing depression before it starts
A single dose of psilocybin, the major hallucinogenic component in magic mushrooms, induces long-lasting decreases in anxiety and depression in patients diagnosed with life-threatening cancer according to a new study presented today at the annual meeting of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology.
Patients who receive a cancer diagnosis often develop debilitating symptoms of anxiety and depression. Reports from the 1960s and 1970s suggest that hallucinogenic drugs such as LSD may alleviate such symptoms in cancer patients, but the clinical value of hallucinogenic drugs for the treatment of mood disturbances in cancer patients remains unclear. In this new study, Roland Griffiths and colleagues from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine investigated the effects of psilocybin on symptoms of anxiety and depression in individuals diagnosed with life-threatening cancer. Five weeks after receiving a dose of psilocybin sufficiently high to induce changes in perception and mystical-type experiences, patients reported significantly lower levels of anxiety and depression compared with patients that received a low dose of the drug. The positive effects on mood persisted in the patients at 6 month follow-up.
The authors suggest that a single dose of psilocybin may be sufficient to produce enduring decreases in negative mood in patients with a life-threatening cancer.