BRAIN-AwardsFour faculty members from the University of Utah’s College of Engineering received grants from the National Institute of Health’s Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative. This is the third and latest round of NIH grants, which so far have totaled more than $150 million in fiscal year 2016.

The following U projects received awards:

Rapid Electrode Multiplexing for Scalable Neural Recording Over the past few decades, extracellular electrodes for recording the electrical activity of individual neurons has improved to the point that an array the size of a postage stamp can record from hundreds of neurons simultaneously. What has not kept pace with the miniaturization of electrode arrays is miniaturization of the onboard computer chip that processes the incoming neuronal data. Ross Walker and his colleagues propose a new multiplexed architecture in which each of the chip’s electrode interfaces is shared across many recording sites, enabling orders of magnitude smaller chips. These new chips, which will be able to support more than 1,000 electrodes, can improve the sensitivity of electrode arrays used for clinical applications such as deep brain stimulation and neural prosthetics. Electrical and computer engineering assistant professor Ross M. Walker.

Development of an integrated array for simultaneous optogenetic stimulation and electrical recording to study cortical circuit function in the non-human primate brain — Optogenetics is a potent tool for studying neural circuit function, but its application in the context of electrical recordings has been limited, especially in higher mammals beyond rodents. Steve Blair and his colleagues propose to develop and test functional multi-optrode penetrating arrays derived from the well-established Utah electrode array. These devices, which will integrate light emitting diodes (LEDs), are designed for spatiotemporally patterned optogenetic stimulation and electrical recording of neural circuits across large volumes throughout the depth of the neocortex. This technology will allow for unprecedented optogenetic investigations of neural circuit function in higher mammals, enabling experiments that will address fundamental questions of how the brain processes information. Electrical and computer engineering professor Steve Blair, ophthalmology/visual sciences professor Alessandra Angelucci, and electrical and computer engineering research associate professor Loren Rieth.

Beyond Diagnostic Classification of Autism: Neuroanatomical, Functional, and Behavioral Phenotypes  A major barrier to creating effective treatments for autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a lifelong neurological disorder characterized by stereotyped behavior and difficulties in social interactions, is the lack of understanding of the underlying brain mechanisms. Preston Thomas Fletcher and his team propose to develop novel statistical methods for integrating the analyses of neuroimaging data (functional and structural MRI) with behavioral assessments. The resulting set of open-source tools will help relate brain networks to specific ASD behaviors, as well as those observed in other neuropsychological disorders. School of Computing assistant professor Preston Thomas Fletcher.

In 2014, President Obama launched the BRAIN Initiative as a large-scale effort to equip researchers with insights necessary for treating a wide variety of brain disorders like Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, autism, epilepsy, and traumatic brain injury. The World Health Organization estimated that devastating brain disorders affect more than one billion people worldwide.