CHICAGO, Oct. 1, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- In a move to dramatically accelerate brain research — and possible cures for autism, Parkinson's and stroke — the National Institutes of Health (NIH) today awarded Konrad Kording, Ph.D., research scientist at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC), a $9 million, five-year NIH Transformative Research Award to build a non-invasive, molecular-biologic tool to record, measure and study how the brain really works.
The award is part of NIH's "High Risk-High Reward" program and is one of just 10 Transformative Research grants awarded to scientists who propose highly-innovative approaches to major challenges facing the biomedical research community.
Kording, a neuroscientist, lead researcher at RIC and associate professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine, will collaborate with a national team of scientists that include the highly-regarded Harvard microbiologist George Church and MIT neuroscientist Ed Boyden.
"NIH is excited to continue support of visionary investigators, among all career stages, pursuing science with the potential to transform scientific fields and accelerate the translation of scientific research into improved health, through the Common Fund's High Risk-High Reward Research Program," said NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D. "This program allows researchers to propose highly creative research projects across a broad range of biomedical research areas, that involve inherent risk, but have the potential for high-rewards."
If successful, the research would allow scientists to collect simultaneously recordings of activities from all the nerve cells in the whole mouse brain. Doing so will increase the capture of this data by 100,000-fold, change profoundly how the brain is studied and accelerate efforts to understand and cure all sorts of brain diseases and conditions. The NIH-funded effort will work in parallel with President Obama's recently-announced BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) Initiative. That $100 million program seeks to help researchers find new ways to treat, cure and even prevent brain disorders, such as Alzheimer's disease, epilepsy and traumatic brain injury.
Brain Cells that Record Own Activity
Currently, brain activity in mice is measured using a series of brain-implanted electrode-needles that transmit a tiny portion of neural activity to a recorder, amplifier, digitizer and computer. Kording's proposed solution would equip scientists to study the activity of all 100 million nerve cells at the same time — and do so biologically, without the use of machines to record it.
"The human brain has 85 billion nerve cells (i.e., neurons) — that's nearly twice the number of World Wide Web pages that Google tracks," said Kording. "The brain produces more information in 30 seconds than the Hubble telescope produced in its lifetime. Yet, we still understand very little of what's happening inside and how it actually works.
"By starting with mice — a mammal whose brain has only 1/1000th the number of nerve cells of a human brain — this new technique will take a giant step toward our being able to diagnose and treat human conditions."
Using microbiologic tools that are non-invasive and potentially less expensive than the physical tools used today, Kording's team will add extra DNA and engineered DNA polymerases to the neurons, effectively transforming them into recording devices that track nerve cell activity.
This DNA-based approach will allow a recording of the activities from all neurons that help the brain control movements like sitting, walking and speech. If scientists can compare and contrast what happens to neural activity both when the brain behaves normally and when it is disrupted by a stroke, for example, Kording believes understanding and cures will come much more quickly.
"RIC has long been at the forefront of brain research," said Dr. Joanne Smith, M.D., president and CEO of RIC. "We are gratified to receive from the NIH not just this distinctive funding, but also the trust and recognition for Dr. Kording and his 'dream team' of scientists to do this transformative brain research. We look forward to tracking the progress of this project and leveraging important discoveries."
About The Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago
The Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC) is the nation's #1-ranked provider of comprehensive physical medicine and rehabilitation care to patients from around the world. Ranked #1 by both U.S. News and World Report and the U.S. National Institutes of Health, RIC holds an unparalleled market distinction.
With a record eight multi-year, multi-million dollar federal research designations awarded and funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Education's National Institute of Disability and Rehabilitation Research in the areas of spinal cord injury, brain injury, stroke, neurological rehabilitation, outcomes research, bionic medicine, neurological engineering research, and pediatric orthopedics, RIC operates the largest rehabilitation research enterprise in the world. RIC also operates its 182-bed, flagship hospital in downtown Chicago, as well as a network of more than 40 sites of care distributed throughout the Midwest, through which it delivers inpatient, day rehabilitation, and outpatient services.
Founded in 1954, RIC has been designated the "#1 Rehabilitation Hospital in America" by U.S. News & World Report every year since 1991. RIC sets the standard of care in the post-acute market through its innovative applied research and discovery programs, particularly in the areas of neuroscience, bionic medicine, musculoskeletal medicine and technology transfer. For more information, go to www.ric.org
About the National Institutes of Health (NIH)
NIH, the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit www.nih.gov.
About the NIH Common Fund
The NIH Common Fund supports a series of exceptionally high impact research programs that are broadly relevant to health and disease. The NIH Director's awards Program is funded through the Common Fund and managed by the NIH Office of the Director in partnership with the various NIH Institutes, Centers and Offices. Common Fund programs are designed to overcome major research barriers and pursue emerging opportunities for the benefit of the biomedical research community at large. The research products of Common Fund programs are expected to catalyze disease-specific research supported by the NIH Institutes and Centers. Additional information about the NIH Common Fund can be found at http://commonfund.nih.gov.
SOURCE Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago