Understanding and reverse-engineering the brain's powerful circuitry have tantalized researchers for decades. Today, new tools and techniques provide unprecedented access to the nervous system, increasing our understanding of the brain and creating exciting new opportunities. Find out more in this Special Report.
Credit: Nicolle R. Fuller, Sayo-Art LLC
The documentary, "Explorers of the Brain: Research from the Frontiers of Neuroscience," takes you to the front lines of research in brain science – from the magnetoencephalography lab at New York University to the Center for Neuroscience at the University of California, Davis, and the Digital Brain Bank at The Brain Observatory. Hear more in this radio documentary.
Credit: NSF/RL Paul Productions
The Division of Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental and Transport (CBET) Systems of the Directorate for Engineering supports innovative research and education in the fields of chemical engineering, biotechnology, bioengineering, and environmental engineering, and in areas that involve the transformation and/or transport of matter and energy by chemical, thermal or mechanical means.
How does sleep affect individual memories? How do brain cells connect to form meaningful networks? How is a word like "chair" conceptualized in the mind? To support potentially transformative research in neural and cognitive systems, NSF awarded 16 grants to multidisciplinary teams from across the United States in August 2015. The awards bring together scientists and engineers from diverse fields to investigate brain-related mysteries.
February 29, 2016
Engineering a spinal cord repair kit
New, multifunctional fibers to help repair nerve damage or deliver treatment for mental, neurological disorders
Polina Anikeeva hopes to one day be able to regenerate the spinal cord to restore movement for paralyzed people or possibly bypass the spinal cord altogether with a device that mimics its function.
With support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the materials scientist and her team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) are engineering a nerve repair "tool kit," with an eye toward repairing damaged nerves and even growing new ones.
They're designing multifunctional polymer strands -- thinner than a human hair -- that would be implanted right alongside damaged neurons. The strands can have hollow channels to deliver drugs, embedded electrodes to send electrical signals, or optical guides to transmit light for optogenetics, a method for switching nerve signals on and off.
The team is also designing fibers that can act as tiny scaffolds or 3-D structures, to support new nerve tissue as it grows or even accelerate the growth. The ultimate goal is to help doctors treat diseases such as Parkinson's, schizophrenia and depression, in addition to healing spinal injuries. Anikeeva's research helps advance NSF's efforts to enable scientific understanding of the full complexity of the brain, in action and in context.
The research in this episode was supported by NSF award #1253890, Optoelectronic neural scaffolds: materials platform for investigation and control of neuronal activity and development. This was a Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) award.
Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations presented in this material are only those of the presenter grantee/researcher, author, or agency employee; and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.