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.
In 2016, UC Berkeley engineers demonstrated the first implanted, ultrasonic neural dust sensors, bringing closer the day when a Fitbit-like device could monitor internal nerves, muscles or organs in real time. Now, Berkeley engineers have taken neural dust a step forward by building the smallest volume, most efficient wireless nerve stimulator to date.
An evocatively named network of highly miniaturized, wireless sensors, Neural Dust uses tiny bursts of ultrasound to record real-time activity from neurons, muscles, or organs. Invented by Berkeley professors Michel Maharbiz and Jose Carmena, this innovative tool offers a less-invasive method of in-body telemetry that could enable the movement of prosthetic limbs or help to monitor health.
Intrigued by how the body detects and responds to its environment, Diana Bautista studies the molecular mechanisms underlying the sensations of touch, pain, and itch. She examines interactions among sensory neurons, skin cells, and immune cells that can trigger chronic inflammatory diseases and has identified a molecule that increases itching through the brain’s sensitivity to serotonin. Bautista was named a 2016 Faculty Scholar by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Simons Foundation, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
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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.