The human brain has the power to imagine and create. It can fuel astonishing achievements or fail from devastating ailments. So much is at stake in discovering how this unique organ lets us experience the world. Leveraging UC Berkeley’s world-leading research excellence across all relevant disciplines, the Berkeley Brain Initiative convenes exceptional minds to spark breakthrough knowledge and to spawn transformative technologies. Our ultimate goal: to unlock the secrets of how the human brain gives rise to the mind.
Two Berkeley neuroscience faculty members— Yang Dan, a professor of molecular and cell biology and Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator and Ehud Isacoff, a professor of molecular and cell biology and director of the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute and the Berkeley Brain Initiative—were among the five new UC Berkeley researchers added as members of the National Academy of Sciences.
Mu-ming Poo’s pioneering discoveries about neural circuitry provide crucial clues for understanding memory, awareness, and learning. He has shown how neurons in the developing brain find each other to form synapses. Poo also demonstrated the brain’s inherent plasticity: we continue to generate neurons beyond childhood into old age.
A Chan Zuckerberg Investigator, Michel Maharbiz creates next-generation neural interface technology — engineering radical data-gathering devices for use in the body. He is a co-inventor of Neural Dust: a platform for ultra-miniaturized, free-floating electrical sensors inserted into the brain for long-term recording of neural activity. This approach could overcome the obstacles and risks posed by current implant devices.
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UC Berkeley is partnering with the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle on a five-year effort to count, catalog and connect the many different cell types in the mouse brain, as a foundation for doing the same for the human brain. Funded by the National Institutes of Health, the Allen Institute-led consortium represents an international team of scientists that will construct a comprehensive whole-brain atlas of cell types, essentially a parts list of the mouse brain.
Berkeley was awarded a new $13.43 million BRAIN Initiative grant from the National Institutes of Health to build the next generation of functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI by 2019. The NexGen 7T will provide the highest resolution images of the brain ever obtained, able to focus on a region the size of a poppy seed. Lead researcher David Feinberg notes, “The much higher resolution imaging will overcome size barriers in imaging the cortex and should lead to new discoveries in the human brain, hopefully with major medical impact.
The Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute has selected a multidisciplinary team of Berkeley scientists led by Markita Landry to receive the inaugural research award of the Radical Ideas in Brain Science Challenge. The winning team, which includes Linda Wilbrecht, Marla Feller, and Jose Carmena, will receive $300,000 in seed funding — made possible through the generosity of Andrea and Peter Roth, P’05 — to develop nanosensors to study how neuromodulators like dopamine affect our mood, attention, and behavior, in diseases such as Autism.