Ramin Pashaie, associate professor of electrical engineering, was awarded a $265,000 federal grant from the Army Research Office, Neurobiology section, to continue research into brain functions. This is his second grant from the Army Research Office. His research is focused on neuro-vascular interactions, especially imaging the activity of neurons by monitoring vessels within the brain.
The grant will enable Pashaie to study the use of the vascular network as a naturally embedded and especially distributed network of sensors, potentially enabling mapping of neural activity at a fraction of the cost of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) technology and at a much higher resolution.
Neuro-vascular interactions are the interactions between blood vessels in the brain and neurons. The two systems are connected in such a way that when neurons are activated in one part of the brain, blood and oxygen will rush there through the vascular system to create the energy needed.
Pashaie and his team use optogenetics, which is a biological technique that involves the use of light to control cells in living tissue. Those cells are typically neurons that have been genetically modified to be sensitive to light. Utilizing this method, as well as brain micro-angiography, Pashaie and his research team are able to stimulate specific sections of the brain through light-sensitivity and can then observe the response of the vessels. By monitoring the vessels, they then utilize and image the activity of neurons.
While initial testing will be on animals, the work has potential for clinical translation. In theory, as the technology being developed by Pashaie is less expensive than traditional fMRI technology, eventually functional imaging could also be much more readily available to many more people.
More detailed information about Pashaie’s research will appear soon in the Journal of Neural Engineering under the title “Optogenetic interrogation of neurovascular coupling in the cerebral cortex of transgenic mice.”