With a $106 million gift from the Weill Family Foundation, UC Berkeley (Berkeley), UC San Francisco (UCSF) and the University of Washington (the UW) have launched the Weill Neurohub, an innovative research network that will forge and nurture new collaborations between neuroscientists and researchers working in an array of other disciplines—including engineering, computer science, physics, chemistry, and mathematics—to speed the development of new therapies for diseases and disorders that affect the brain and nervous system.

Dyslexia, one of America’s most common learning challenges, is often referred to as an invisible disability, due in no small part to the stigma of struggling with reading and writing in competitive school environments. For full story click here.

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.

Minds Wide Open just won two 2019 New York Festivals TV & Film Awards Gold World Medals – one in the Science & Technology Documentary category and the other for best Branded Documentary Production. The film also won a Bronze World Medal in the Feature Documentary Film category at this year’s festival.  The film features some of the world’s most innovative scientists and doctors from UC Berkeley, Caltech, Harvard, Fudan University-affiliated Huashan Hospital, Oxford (Jesus College) and Stanford. These experts present compelling advances in brain research, psychiatry, biology, robotics and artificial intelligence – and demonstrate how they can help people whose lives are affected by brain disease and disorders.

As part of their billion-dollar commitment to brain science, the Chens plan to create new cornerstone partnerships with international institutions and programs that will support scientists working on the brain and mind. They will create other films to highlight advances in the science, the challenges faced by scientists and opportunities they see for making progress in the quest to unlock the mysteries of the human mind.  “We commissioned Minds Wide Open as a way of advocating for the scientific community,” commented Chrissy Luo, TCC Co-Founder. “Our hope is that scientists and researchers can use the film to make the case for supporting early-career scientists and for taking an interdisciplinary approach to studying the human brain.”

A free, 26-minute version is on YouTube here:

Frédéric Theunissen, Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience, has been awarded a Carl Friedrich von Siemens Research Award from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation for his research on auditory perception. The award is given in recognition of the winner’s entire body of work. It provides the opportunity for awardees to carry out a research project of their choosing with colleagues in Germany, to promote international scientific collaboration.  Theunissen was nominated for the award by Professor Manfred Gahr, Max Planck Institute for Ornithology, Seewiesen, Germany.  

A new wireless ‘pacemaker for the brain’ could become the new standard for the treatment for neurological disorders.  Developed by engineers at UC Berkeley, this new neuro-stimulator can listen to and stimulate electric current in the brain at the same time, potentially delivering fine-tuned treatments to patients with diseases like epilepsy and Parkinson’s.

Professor Ehud Isacoff

A new $20 million matching gift from the Hellman family will double the number of early-career faculty fellowships available through the program they founded in 1995.  Ehud Isacoff, director of Berkeley’s Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute and the new Berkeley Brain Initiative, was among the first cohort to receive a fellowship in 1995. Today, he is considered a world leader in the burgeoning field of neurotechnology and is a principal investigator on a $27.6 million federal grant to illuminate new directions in implantable brain-computer interfaces that may one day treat neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s, blindness and paralysis.

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.

Congratulations to Marla Feller, Professor and Head of Neurobiology, on receiving a 2018 Distinguished Faculty Mentor Award! Nominations for this award are made by the faculty member’s graduate student mentees. It is a tremendous honor to receive one of these awards – only three faculty members across the UC Berkeley campus are selected each year.

As a scientist, Professor Feller is recognized for her contributions to the field of retinal circuit development, especially on the role of spontaneous activity in the developing nervous system. As a mentor, she is known for her commitment to equitable access and opportunity in the sciences. She advises trainees at all levels to execute their research methodically, present themselves professionally, and communicate their work effectively so that they will have a successful scientific career. She volunteers her time to speak on women in science panels, advise postdocs in the Job Market Seminar Series, and teach visiting students in the 4D Advanced Microscopy of Brain Circuits course, among many other things. She uses her leadership positions as Head of the Neurobiology Division of MCB and member of the Executive Committee for HWNI to push for changes that benefit everyone in our Neuroscience community.

Please join us in congratulating Professor Feller on this well deserved honor.

Published in: Berkeley Neuroscience News | April 10th, 2018

“The brain is made of billions of neurons. Many of these are dedicated to sensory perception. But how many neurons does it take in order to create what we call a percept?” Ehud Isacoff

In July 2017, Berkeley researchers were awarded a contract for up to $21.6M from DARPA to build an implantable brain-computer interface that may one day be used to restore sensory inputs to those who have lost them. The aim is ambitious: Create a device that can record from a million neurons and deliver patterned neuronal stimulation to encode sensory perceptions. This window into the brain will move the field of neurobiology forward by enabling researchers to directly test hypotheses about the neural correlates of perception, decision making, and behavior at a scale and precision beyond any existing technology.

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.

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.

The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation announced that Assistant Professor of Chemistry, Markita Landry, has been awarded a 2018 Sloan Research Fellowship for her work in neuroscience. Dr. Landry is one of a select group of US and Canadian researchers honored for their early-career achievements marking them as the next generation of scientific leaders.

Dr. Landry, and her research team are involved in groundbreaking research to develop a new nanosensor technology and near-infrared imaging platform that will enable non-invasive imaging of neurotransmitter activity in the living brain. The research is specifically looking at the problem of how to test psychiatric and neurological drug efficacy in the brain with infrared light. The goal is to create a microscopic imaging platform that can image neurotransmitters through cranial bone, skin, and tissue. Optical detection of neurotransmitters in the brain of an awake animal will enable direct study of the fundamental underlying mechanisms of behavioral disorders which can accurately validate the neural action of a psychiatric drug.

Alumnus Ron Hammer ’74 was inspired to pursue his interest and career in neurobiology by Berkeley anatomist Marian Diamond. To mark Diamond’s lasting legacy and inspire future brain scientists, Hammer and his spouse, neuropsychiatrist Sandra Jacobson, have committed a $2 million endowed fund for the Marian C. Diamond and Arnold B. Scheibel Chair in Neuroscience.

A founder of modern neuroscience and professor emerita of integrative biology at Berkeley, Marion Cleeves Diamond died July 25 in Oakland at the age of 90. Diamond gained fame in 1984 by examining preserved sections of Albert Einstein’s brain. Her primary scientific accomplishment came from showing how an enriched environment could enhance the brain’s internal structure, overturning the traditional view of the brain as a static entity that declines with age. A gifted and engaging teacher, Diamond inspired generations of students in her human anatomy courses until she retired in 2014.

Berkeley engineers have built the first dust-sized wireless sensors that can be implanted in the body in order to monitor the real-time activity of nerves, muscles, or organs. These Neural Dust sensors, each the size of a sand grain, use ultrasound to power and read out measurements, so it could potentially be used throughout the body. Ultimately, this technology could improve the brain’s control of external prosthetics or lead to treatments for disorders such as epilepsy.