DEC 29, 2015 05:00 AM PST

Understanding How the Brain Can Heal

Brain injuries and neurodegenerative diseases are devastating to those who suffer them and incredibly complex for the doctors and health professionals who treat them. There is much that remains unknown about how the brain heals and how to slow the progression of disease. A project being undertaken at  Rice University is trying to advance the science of how neurons in the brain form networks and from that data they hope to gain new insights on how the brain can heal itself.
New research hopes to show how neurons form networks to heal the brain

The project at Rice is funded by the National Science Foundation and is a combination of experiments and number crunching analyses to figure out how the brain organizes the millions of signals and input it receives.  The objective is that once it is understood how the brain handles the traffic, develops neuronal networks and processes input these events can then be manipulated to treat brain injuries, strokes and diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
 
Researchers and experts from Rice are involved in the areas of nanotechnology, developemental biology and systems biology. Rice bioengineer Amina Qutub, an authority on protein signaling and hypoxia, is leading the effort and she is joined by electrical engineer Jacob Robinson, whose unique microfluidic devices help characterize the electrical properties of living cells, and developmental biologist Daniel Wagner, who develops zebrafish models of human disease. Through the National Science Foundation and President Obama’s BRAIN Initiative, just over $13 million in grants have been awarded for research into neuroscience. 
 
For the first part of the research Qutub and her team will study how neural progenitor cells—the building blocks of neurons—form networks. Electrical activity, chemical signals and spatial patterns must all be looked at through experiments in the lab on human cells to fully understand how the networks within the brain are created.
 
In a press release from Rice, Qutub said,  “We’re focusing on how neural progenitors become functional neural networks. That process is critical for regenerating nerve tissue. There’s still debate over where the progenitors are located and how they’re recruited to areas of injury, but we know they’re present in the brain.” 
  
Once there is enough data on this part of the process, a large computer model will be created to crunch the numbers from the lab trials into a qualitative analysis. Then electrical activity will be measured using a device being developed in the electrical engineering lab at Rice, overseen by study co-lead Jacob Robinson. His method will involve recording electrical activity levels at different points in the development of the progenitor cells to see just when single cells start to form groups or networks. Robinson’s lab will record electrical activity in neural progenitor cells at different points in their development to see how they mature to a functional state.

The third piece of the puzzle is Daniel Wagner’s zebrafish lab where he uses imaging equipment to see into tiny transparent embryos ad record how certain biological processes happen. Wagner has already developed a specific species of zebrafish for the project.
 
Qutub hopes that what the team learns at Rice can be made available to the global neuroscience community via open-source analysis toolkits.  Check out the video below to hear more about this research.
 
About the Author
  • I'm a writer living in the Boston area. My interests include cancer research, cardiology and neuroscience. I want to be part of using the Internet and social media to educate professionals and patients in a collaborative environment.
You May Also Like
OCT 16, 2019
Drug Discovery & Development
OCT 16, 2019
Does Microdosing Really Boost Productivity and Creativity?
Microdosing is the practice of ingesting very low doses of psychedelic substances, typically a twentieth of a recreational dose. In particular, Lysergic ac...
OCT 16, 2019
Health & Medicine
OCT 16, 2019
How Much Caffeine Can Trigger a Migraine?
Do you suffer from migraines? Your caffeine intake may be a trigger. Researchers from the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), Brigham and Women&r...
OCT 16, 2019
Plants & Animals
OCT 16, 2019
Crows Are Incredibly Smart Birds
Many people don’t realize it, but animals can be particularly intelligent when it comes to matters of problem-solving. In this video, we see a lone c...
OCT 16, 2019
Drug Discovery & Development
OCT 16, 2019
Adderall is Almost Identical to Crystal Meth
Adderall has a reputation for giving people a feeling of euphoria, increasing energy levels and enhancing abilities to focus and concentrate. And coinciden...
OCT 16, 2019
Neuroscience
OCT 16, 2019
Specialized neurons may hinder memories during dream sleep
Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep is a phase when dreams are created. Traditionally, REM has been thought of as a sleep stage important for memory consolidation, or the long-term storage of memo...
OCT 16, 2019
Neuroscience
OCT 16, 2019
Extreme athletic training tires out the brain, impairs decision-making
Excessive athletic training does some wear and tear on the body; but according to new research, it can also make the brain tired, leading to poor decision-making. In a paper recently publish...
Loading Comments...