Brain Science Boosts Core Facilities

December 17, 2012

As part of Brown University’s commitment to brain science, Provost Mark Schlissel committed $1M to the Brown Institute for Brain Science (BIBS) for 2012-13 to support shared core facilities.  This program was designed to provide major new state-of-the-art equipment to ensure that Brown’s brain scientists have access to the cutting-edge equipment that they need to remain competitive.

Applications were submitted in September and reviewed by a faculty committee appointed by BIBS.  An important consideration was the potential for the proposed equipment to foster new external research funding.  Three proposals were selected for funding and they are highlighted below.

Brain Stimulation Facility – PIs, David Badre, Linda Carpenter, Jerome Sanes.  Total cost, $400,000.

This facility will provide more than twenty brain scientists at Brown access to the latest techniques for localized, non-invasive, transient brain stimulation in humans.  The techniques consist of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) along with transcranial direct and alternating current stimulation (tDCS and tACS).  The inclusion of stereotactic neuronavigation will allow investigators to precisely stimulate specific, predetermined brain areas.  These state-of-the-art human neuroscience research and treatment tools permit safe and relatively inexpensive studies of brain function with exceptional spatial and temporal precision.  They can transiently disrupt normal activity in targeted brain areas with greater selectivity than can be attained by other methodologies used in humans (e.g., patient studies or pharmacological interventions) while simultaneously allowing measurement of the impact on many aspects of perception, performance and health.  Non-invasive, focal brain stimulation is an approach that beautifully complements fMRI and EEG as tools for uncovering the roles of specific brain areas in human cognition and the processes that underlie brain disorders. 

A Multiphoton Laser Scanning Microscope for the Leduc Bioimaging Facility – PI, Robbert Creton.  Total cost, $541,000 (including partial funding from the Office of the Vice President for Research).

This multiphoton microscope, the first to be accessible through a core facility in Rhode Island, will open new research opportunities for a large group of brain scientists and cell biologists.  Multiphoton laser microscopy allows scientists to observe the structural and functional properties of biological systems with power and precision far beyond those of conventional or confocal microscopes.  Its advantages include the ability to visualize tiny structures deep within living tissue repeatedly, over time, in 3-dimensions and without causing damage.  It can also be used to precisely stimulate brain regions only a few microns across while simultaneously measuring cell activity either by fluorescent imaging of molecular indicators (e.g. calcium flux) or by recording activity with microelectrodes. 

Acquisition of High-Throughput Dispensing Capability for Drosophila Media Prep Facility – PI, Kristi Wharton.  Total cost, $71,000.

The fruit fly, Drosophila, has proven to be an exceptional model organism for the study of many biological processes. It is a powerful research tool for identifying genes involved in development, neural function, behavior, population studies and aging, and most importantly, for elucidating their functions, in vivo.  As such, Drosophila research has been instrumental in identifying genes responsible for many human disease states.  However, ensuring the proper diets for these animals is critical for maintaining valuable genetic lines and for conducting experiments.  At Brown a core facility was created to prepare media for feeding Drosophila, but it is a slow, labor-intensive process.  Eight research groups use this facility and it has reached maximum capacity.  These funds will allow the facility to automate much of the process, increasing capacity and accelerating the rate of research.  This expansion will open the facility to other Drosophila researchers on campus and to a new brain scientist who will arrive in 2013.  She will be a heavy user and this core support will help ensure that her career at Brown gets off to a fast and productive start