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Toolmakers aim to untangle fundamental challenges in neuroscience

Improved MRI image quality enables mapping of nerve fiber patterns not only in the white matter but also in the grey matter of the cerebral cortex. (Image credit: Neurodevelopment Initiative, Wu Tsai Neurosciences Institute)
Jun 1 2021

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Faculty, In the News

Research Accelerators to focus on Early Brain Development, Mechanisms of Plant-based Medicine

The Wu Tsai Neurosciences Institute is also announcing two-year Research Accelerator grants to two other 2018 Big Idea pilot projects:

The Neurodevelopment Initiative, led by psychologist Kalanit Grill-Spector, PhD, and MRI physicist Jennifer McNab, PhD, is developing new tools and techniques for newborn and infant magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), with the goal of better understanding early human brain development and improving screening for neurodevelopmental abnormalities in the first months of life. 

In particular, the group aims to directly compare the unique microscopic anatomy of the infant brain with how these features are reflected in MR images, to gain a better understanding of the unique biology of the developing brain.  In service of this goal, the team has developed a new library of custom protocols and code designed for imaging and analyzing the infant brain, which they are making freely available to the scientific and medical community. The group will also use the accelerator funds to develop and test a new adjustable MRI coil for researchers at the Stanford Center for Neurobiological Imaging that is designed like a car seat to make infant brain imaging more comfortable and reliable and can be adapted to infants’ changing head size.

“I have been scanning children and comparing them to adults for 15 years, but the baby brain is just very different. It’s not just a smaller version of the adult brain,” said Grill-Spector, a professor of psychology. “For example, the conventional contrast between gray matter and white matter appears inverted in the infant MRI because the myelin that produces this contrast is still developing. This means we’ve needed to create whole new protocols and data analysis software for infant MRI, which we hope will be valuable for the field.”

“To help interpret the neurodevelopmental changes we observe, we have also developed new approaches to directly compare MRI with advanced histology in the same ex vivo tissue samples,” added McNab, an associate professor of radiology. “Gaining a better understanding of what each MRI pixel represents in terms of microstructural features such as the density and organization of myelin, glia and cell bodies will help advance our understanding of this critical stage of development.”

Kalanit Grill-Spector, PhD, and Jennifer McNab, PhD, lead the Neurodevelopment Initiative at the Wu Tsai Neurosciences Institute, Stanford University.

Kalanit Grill-Spector, PhD, (Psychology) and Jennifer McNab, PhD, (Radiology) lead the Neurodevelopment Initiative at the Wu Tsai Neurosciences Institute. (Images courtesy of the researchers.)

 

Big Ideas in Neuroscience Initiatives aim to advance field through collaboration, diversity and education

Newsome and the Wu Tsai Neurosciences Institute Executive Committee founded the Big Ideas in Neurosciences program as the Institute’s flagship grant program following a famous series of dinners in which researchers across campus who shared an interest in the brain came together to discuss how the Institute could best leverage its cross-disciplinary scope to move the field of neuroscience forward. The institute awarded its first round of seven Big Ideas grants in 2014, and later advanced three of these transformative projects to flagship "phase 2" collaborations focused on brain rejuvenation, neurotechnology and decision making.

The Institute awards its Big Ideas in Neuroscience grants not only based on their potential to unravel knotty problems in neuroscience, but for their ability to build bridges between disciplines, strengthen the Stanford neuroscience community and contribute to the training of the next generation of multi-disciplinary scientists — including a focus on inclusion of underrepresented and historically marginalized groups.

“We’ve always said that we want these Big Idea teams to bring together ideas from a wide range of fields and disciplines,” Newsome said. “They become more than the sum of their parts, which is what’s needed to give them a shot to accomplish together things that they'd have no hope of accomplishing apart.”

 

Full affiliations of Big Idea Initiative lead investigators: 

Karl Deisseroth, MD, PhD, is D.H. Chen Professor in the departments of Bioengineering and of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences in the Stanford schools of Engineering and of Medicine, and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. He is a member of Stanford Bio-X and the Wu Tsai Neurosciences Institute. 

Sergiu Pasça, MD, is the Bonnie Uytengsu and Family Director of the Stanford Brain Organogenesis Program at the Wu Tsai Neurosciences Institute and associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences in the Stanford School of Medicine. He is a member of Stanford Bio-X, the Stanford Center for Sleep Sciences and Medicine, the Stanford Maternal & Child Health Research Institute (MCHRI) and the Wu Tsai Neurosciences Institute and a Stanford ChEM-H faculty fellow. 

Liqun Luo, PhD, is Ann and Bill Swindells Professor in the Department of Biology in the Stanford School of Humanities and Sciences and professor by courtesy in the Department of Neurobiology in the Stanford School of Medicine. He is a member of Stanford Bio-X, the Stanford Cancer Institute and the Wu Tsai Neurosciences Institute and a Stanford ChEM-H faculty fellow. 

Stephen Quake, DPhil, is the Lee Otterson Professor in the Department of Bioengineering in the Stanford Schools of Engineering and of Medicine and professor in the departments of Applied Physics and (by courtesy) of Physics in the Stanford School of Humanities and Sciences, and is co-President of the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub. He is a member of Stanford Bio-X, the Stanford Cardiovascular Institute, the Stanford Cancer Institute, the Stanford Diabetes Research Center and the Wu Tsai Neurosciences Institute. 

Alice Ting, PhD, is professor in the departments of Biology and Genetics and (by courtesy) of Chemistry, in the Stanford School of Humanities and Sciences. She is a member of Stanford Bio-X, the Stanford Maternal & Child Health Research Institute (MCHRI), the Stanford Cancer Institute and the Wu Tsai Neurosciences Institute, and a Stanford ChEM-H faculty fellow. 

Kalanit Grill-Spector, PhD, is a professor in the Department of Psychology in the Stanford School of Humanities and Sciences and a member of Stanford Bio-X and the Wu Tsai Neurosciences Institute. 

Jennifer McNab, PhD, is an associate professor in the Department of Radiology in the Stanford School of Medicine. She is a member of Stanford Bio-X, the Stanford Maternal & Child Health Research Institute (MCHRI) and the Wu Tsai Neurosciences Institute. She is also director of industry collaborations in the Department of Radiology and co-director of the Neurosciences Visualization Community Laboratory at the Wu Tsai Neurosciences Institute. 

Thomas Clandinin, PhD, is Shooter Family Professor in the Wu Tsai Neurosciences Institute, and professor in the Department of Neurobiology in the Stanford School of Medicine. He is a member of Stanford Bio-X and the Wu Tsai Neurosciences Institute. 

Miriam Goodman, PhD, is the Mrs. George A. Winzer Professor in Cell Biology and chair of the Department of Molecular and Cellular Physiology in the Stanford School of Medicine. She is a member of Stanford Bio-X and chair of the Wu Tsai Neurosciences Institute Interdisciplinary Scholars Program. 

Seung Yon (Sue) Rhee, PhD, is a Senior Staff Member in the Plant Biology Department at the Carnegie Institution for Science and associate professor (by courtesy) in the Department of Biology in the Stanford School of Humanities and Sciences, and a member of the Wu Tsai Neurosciences Institute.