McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine affiliated faculty member and Duquesne University professor John Pollock, PhD, and his team aim to develop an app to improve mental health. As reported by Kellen Stepler, staff writer for The Duquesne Duke, the app’s objective is to help pre-teens develop coping skills to manage stress and anxiety. A 2019 report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association claims that the teen suicide rate has reached its highest level in nearly two decades.
Mastering a new skill – whether a sport, an instrument, or a craft – takes time and training. While it is understood that a healthy brain is capable of learning these new skills, how the brain changes in order to develop new behaviors is a relative mystery. More precise knowledge of this underlying neural circuitry may eventually improve the quality of life for individuals who have suffered brain injury by enabling them to more easily relearn everyday tasks.
In a recently published paper, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), Universitat de les Illes Balears, and University of South Carolina along with McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine affiliated faculty member Jonathan Rubin, PhD, professor and chairman in the Department of Mathematics and an adjunct with the Department of Computational and Systems Biology at the University of Pittsburgh, shed light on how specific circuits in the brain can simultaneously make decisions and learn from their outcomes.
Researchers have made groundbreaking strides in brain-computer interface (BCI) research, allowing paralyzed individuals to connect mind to machine and control robotic devices with their brains. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) wants to tap into this breakthrough technology and develop a nonsurgical option that provides a new way for able-bodied individuals to interact with machines.
Responsive neurostimulation (RNS) treats epilepsy by detecting seizures and intervening with a jolt of electric current. Over time, most patients find their seizures become fewer and further between. Now, for the first time, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and UPMC—including McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine affiliated faculty member R. Mark Richardson, MD, PhD, associate professor of neurological surgery at Pitt’s School of Medicine and director of epilepsy and movement disorders surgery at UPMC—have a better understanding of why this happens.
Neural stimulation is a developing technology that has beneficial therapeutic effects in neurological disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease. While many advancements have been made, the implanted devices deteriorate over time and cause scarring in neural tissue. In a recently published paper, McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine affiliated faculty member Takashi Kozai, PhD, an assistant professor of bioengineering in the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering, detailed a less invasive method of stimulation that would use an untethered, ultra-small electrode activated by light, a technique that may mitigate damage done by current methods.
Electrical stimulation of the brain is common practice in neuroscience research and is an increasingly common and effective clinical therapy for a variety of neurological disorders. However, there is limited understanding of why this treatment works at the neural level. A paper published by McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine affiliated faculty member Takashi Kozai, PhD, assistant professor of bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering, addresses gaps in knowledge over the activation and inactivation of neural elements that affect the desired responses to neuromodulation.
McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine affiliated faculty member Robert Bowser, PhD— Chairman of Neurobiology and a Professor of Neurology and Neurobiology at the Barrow Neurological Institute and St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix, Arizona, and the Director of the Gregory W. Fulton ALS and Neuromuscular Research Center at Barrow—is a co-principal investigator on one of seven research partnerships between Arizona biomedical scientists and clinicians that are being funded through a Flinn Foundation program to advance the state’s growing niche in precisiook sn medicine.
A hallmark of neurodegenerative diseases like Huntington’s is the progressive death of nerve cells in the brain. The cells don’t die quickly, though. They first start to disconnect from each other because their neurites — long finger-like extensions that make connections all through the brain — become smaller.
Voyager Therapeutics, Inc., a clinical-stage gene therapy company focused on developing life-changing treatments for severe neurological diseases, announced dosing of the first patient in RESTORE-1, a Phase 2, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial evaluating the safety and efficacy of VY-AADC for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease in patients with motor fluctuations that are refractory to medical management.
Raffi Khatchadourian is a staff writer at The New Yorker. In preparing his article, “Degrees of Freedom,” Mr. Khatchadourian interviewed McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine faculty member Andrew Schwartz, PhD, Professor of Neurobiology at the University of Pittsburgh, and several of Dr. Schwartz’s clinical colleagues and their patients.
A team of University of Pittsburgh and UPMC researchers was recently awarded two grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) totaling over $8 million to expand their groundbreaking brain computer interface (BCI) research in collaboration with researchers at the University of Chicago and Carnegie Mellon University.
Implantation of a stent-like flow diverter can offer one option for less invasive treatment of brain aneurysms – bulges in blood vessels – but the procedure requires frequent monitoring while the vessels heal. Now, a multi-university research team—including McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine affiliated faculty members Youngjae Chun, PhD, associate professor, industrial engineering and bioengineering, and William Wagner, PhD, director of the McGowan Institute and professor of surgery, bioengineering and chemical engineering —has demonstrated proof-of-concept for a highly flexible and stretchable sensor that could be integrated with the flow diverter to monitor hemodynamics in a blood vessel without costly diagnostic procedures.
Deep brain stimulation (DBS) at UPMC has proven to be an effective treatment for involuntary movements associated with Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy, such as tremors, slowness of movement, rigidity, and problems with walking and balance. DBS is also approved for obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) treatment under a Humanitarian Device Exemption.
Nobody really knows how the activity in your brain reorganizes as you learn new tasks, but new research from Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh reveals that the brain has various mechanisms and constraints by which it reorganizes its neural activity when learning over the course of a few hours. McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine affiliated faculty member Elizabeth Tyler-Kabara, MD, PhD, associate professor in the Departments of Neurological Surgery, Bioengineering, and Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the University of Pittsburgh and the director of the Spasticity and Movement Disorder Program at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, is co-author of the new research which finds that, when learning a new task, the brain is less flexible than previously thought.
The research, published recently in Nature Neuroscience (DOI: 10.1038/s41593-018-0095-3), examined the changes that take place in the brain when learning a new task. To truly see how neural activity changes during learning, we need to look bigger—at populations of neurons, rather than one neuron at a time, which has been the standard approach to date.
Our tactile senses keep us aware of our environment and are essential for the execution of natural movement. Though there have been many advances in modern prosthetic devices, the loss of sensory feedback remains an issue, and many amputees struggle with everyday movement. Lack of sensory feedback in transtibial (below-knee) amputation means that the prosthesis user must rely on their residual limb for all motor skills. Patients suffer with problems in balance control, risk of falling, and severe phantom limb pain. A University of Pittsburgh group seeks to address this need for sensory feedback in prosthetic devices.
McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine faculty member Andrew Schwartz, PhD—Distinguished Professor of Neurobiology at the University of Pittsburgh with adjunct appointments at the Center for Neural Basis Cognition (a joint venture of the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University), at the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, and at Pitt’s Department of Bioengineering and its Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation—recently participated in MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) Technology Review’s 17th Annual EmTech where this year’s most significant news on emerging technologies was examined. Dr. Schwartz’s session featured “For Brain-Computer Interfaces to Be Useful, They’ll Need to Be Wireless.”
McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine affiliated faculty members at the University of Pittsburgh have been awarded grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study diverse aspects of how the brain works.
Recently, a Phase 1 clinical trial for the treatment of severe neurological diseases began with its first patient with McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine affiliated faculty member Mark Richardson, MD, PhD, Director of Epilepsy and Movement Disorders Surgery at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and an investigator in the trial, performing the surgical delivery approach. The trial by Voyager Therapeutics, Inc., a clinical-stage gene therapy company developing life-changing treatments for severe neurological diseases, aims to further optimize the surgical delivery of VY-AADC01 for advanced Parkinson’s disease.
New research from Carnegie Mellon University’s College of Engineering and the University of Pittsburgh reveals that motor cortical neurons optimally adjust how they encode movements in a task-specific manner. The findings enhance our understanding of how the brain controls movement and have the potential to improve the performance and reliability of brain-machine interfaces, or neural prosthetics, that assist paralyzed patients and amputees. McGowan Institute of Regenerative Medicine affiliated faculty member Andrew Schwartz, PhD, distinguished professor of neurobiology and chair in systems neuroscience at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and a member of the University of Pittsburgh Brain Institute, is a co-author on the study.
McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine affiliated faculty member David Okonkwo, MD, PhD, Professor and Executive Vice Chair of Neurological Surgery, University of Pittsburgh, recently was consulted on a very rare canine neurosurgery case. The patient was a 5½ -year-old, female Leonberger named Anchor who underwent spinal surgery at Purdue University Veterinary Teaching Hospital. Anchor holds expert status in water rescue.
A significant grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will help to fund advanced brain research at the University of Pittsburgh and UPMC focused on deeper understanding of how speech is controlled in the brain. The research team will study patients with Parkinson’s disease (PD) while they undergo deep brain stimulation (DBS) surgery.
Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine—including McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine affiliated faculty member Charleen Chu, MD, PhD, Professor in the Department of Pathology, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, where she holds the A. Julio Martinez Chair in Neuropathology—have uncovered a major reason why the Parkinson’s-related protein alpha-synuclein, a major constituent of the Lewy bodies that are the pathological hallmark of Parkinson’s disease (PD), is toxic to neurons in the brain. The finding has the potential to lead to new therapies that could slow or stop progression of the devastating illness. The new research appears online in Science Translational Medicine.
It is only in the last decade that deep brain stimulation (DBS) technology was refined and widely accepted as a treatment for Parkinson’s disease and movement disorders, according to McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine affiliated faculty member Mark Richardson, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor of Neurological Surgery at the University of Pittsburgh and the Director, Brain Modulation Laboratory, and the Director, Epilepsy and Movement Disorders Surgery Program, both in the Department of Neurological Surgery.
With the potential to allow quadriplegics to operate robotic limbs, to reverse damage caused by Parkinson’s disease, and to map the pathways of the 100 billion neurons of the brain, microelectrode arrays—or electronic brain implants—are keys to the human-computer interface. Two National Institutes of Health (NIH) grants totaling $4.7 million to researchers at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering will help to further research in improving how the implants perform in the brain and survive the body’s immune responses. The principal investigators for this work are McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine affiliated faculty members Xinyan “Tracy” Cui, PhD, William Kepler Whiteford Professor of Bioengineering and director of the Neural Tissue/Electrode Interface and Neural Tissue Engineering (NTE) Lab, and Takashi “TK” Kozai, PhD, assistant professor of bioengineering and founder of the Bio-Integrating Optoelectric Neural Interface & Cybernetics Lab (BIONIC Lab) at Pitt.
Learning a new skill is easier when it is related to ability that we already possess. For example, a trained pianist might learn a new melody more easily than learning how to hit a tennis serve. Neural engineers from the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition (CNBC)—a joint program between the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University—have discovered a fundamental constraint in the brain that may explain why this happens. McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine faculty member Elizabeth Tyler-Kabara, MD, PhD, an assistant professor in the Departments of Neurological Surgery, Bioengineering, and Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the University of Pittsburgh, the director of the Spasticity and Movement Disorder Program at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, and the director of the Surgical Epilepsy Program in the Department of Neurological Surgery, is a co-author of the study.
McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine affiliated faculty member Mark Richardson, MD, PhD, is an assistant professor, Department of Neurological Surgery, University of Pittsburgh, director, Brain Modulation Laboratory, and the director, Epilepsy and Movement Disorders Surgery Program, both in the Department of Neurological Surgery. Dr. Richardson’s clinical specialization is comprehensive epilepsy surgery and deep brain stimulation (DBS) for movement disorders.
Pitt Establishes Brain Institute to Unlock Mysteries of the Brain, Discover Novel Therapies
The University of Pittsburgh is creating a new Institute that aims to unlock the mysteries of normal and abnormal brain function, and then use this new information to develop novel treatments and cures for brain disorders. The new Institute will function like a Bell Labs for brain research and provide a special environment to promote innovation and discovery. The goal is to enable investigators to perform high-risk, high-impact neuroscience that will transform lives.
Not only does practice make perfect, it also makes for more efficient generation of neuronal activity in the primary motor cortex, the area of the brain that plans and executes movement, according to McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine affiliated faculty member Peter Strick, PhD, and researchers from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. Their findings, published online in Nature Neuroscience, showed that practice leads to decreased metabolic activity for internally generated movements, but not for visually guided motor tasks, and suggest the motor cortex is “plastic” and a potential site for the storage of motor skills.
Targeted Oxidation-Blocker Prevents Secondary Damage after Traumatic Brain Injury
According to McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine affiliated faculty members (pictured left and right) David Okonkwo, MD, PhD, assistant professor with the Department of Neurological Surgery, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, director of Neurotrauma and of the Spinal Deformity Program, clinical director of the Brain Trauma Research Center, and associate director of the Center for Injury Research and Control, and Valerian Kagan, PhD, professor and vice-chairman in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health as well as a professor in the Department of Pharmacology and the Department of Radiation Oncology at the University of Pittsburgh, and also the director of the Center for Free Radical and Antioxidant Health, and a research team from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Graduate School of Public Health, and Department of Chemistry in a report published online in Nature Neuroscience, treatment with an agent that blocks the oxidation of an important component of the mitochondrial membrane prevented the secondary damage of severe traumatic brain injury and preserved function that would otherwise have been impaired.