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McKnight awards $600,000 to develop new research tools for neuroscience


June 20, 2016

The McKnight Endowment Fund for Neuroscience will grant $600,000 over two years for the 2016 McKnight Technological Innovations in Neuroscience Awards.Three research projects will each receive $200,000 to expand the range of technologies for studying the brain and its diseases and to make these new technologies available to the field of neuroscience.

Since the technology awards began in 1999, the Endowment Fund has contributed more than $12 million to innovative technologies for neuroscience.

The following awardees were selected by a committee of their peers from 76 applicants:

  • Kwanghun Chung, PhD, Assistant Professor, Institute for Medical Engineering & Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, “Multi-scale proteomic reconstruction of cells and their brain-wide connectivity”
  • Narayanan (Bobby) Kasthuri, PhD, MDAssistant Professor of Neurobiology, University of Chicago, Neuroscientist, Argonne National Labs, “Brain-X: Nanoscale maps of entire brains using synchrotron-based high-energy x-rays”
  • Stephen Miller, PhD, Associate Professor, Biochemistry and Molecular Pharmacology, University of Massachusetts Medical School, “Overcoming barriers to imaging in the brain”

“Again, it has been a thrill to see the ingenuity at work in developing new neurotechnologies,” said Markus Meister, PhD, chair of the awards committee and the Anne P. and Benjamin F. Biaggini professor of biological sciences at Caltech. “This year’s awards reflect the great untapped potential that still exists in visualizing the connectivity and function of the brain.”

The Endowment Fund is especially interested in work seeking to advance the ability to monitor, manipulate, analyze or model brain function. The awards do not support research based primarily on existing techniques. Technologies developed with McKnight support must ultimately be made available to other scientists. 

In addition to Meister, the committee selecting the 2016 awards included Edward Callaway, Timothy Holy, Loren Looger, Liqun Luo, Alice Ting, and Rachel Wilson.

The next round of awards will be announced in October, with letters of intent due December 1, 2016. For more information about the awards, click here.

 



2016 MCKNIGHT TECHNOLOGICAL INNOVATIONS IN NEUROSCIENCE AWARDS

 

Kwanghun Chung, PhD, Assistant Professor, Institute for Medical Engineering & Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Multi-scale proteomic reconstruction of cells and their brainwide connectivity

Dr. Chung and his lab are developing new technologies to generate a comprehensive, high-resolution brain map. He will combine new tissue processing technologies with genetic labeling techniques. Current brain mapping is relatively low resolution and incomplete; Chung’s research will allow neuroscientists to interrogate many molecules, cell types, and circuits in single tissues. Dr. Chung hopes that this high resolution, comprehensive brain mapping will accelerate the pace of discovery in a broad range of neuroscience applications and enable scientists to characterize animal disease models in a fast and unbiased way.

 

Narayanan (Bobby) Kasthuri, PhD, MD, Assistant Professor of Neurobiology, University of Chicago, Neuroscientist, Argonne National Labs

Brain-X: Nanoscale maps of entire brains using synchrotron-based high-energy x-rays

Dr. Kasthuri’s lab is using high energy X-rays to create complete and comprehensive maps of the brain. The stacks of images generated result in staggering amounts of data that can be segmented to identify the location of every neuron, blood vessel, and component of the brain. By generating maps of healthy mice and human brains, scientists can compare them to pathological samples to better understand cellular and ultimately synaptic differences in diseased brains affected by autism, diabetes and stroke, among other diseases.

 

Stephen Miller, PhD, Associate Professor, Biochemistry and Molecular Pharmacology, University of Massachusetts Medical School

Overcoming barriers to imaging in the brain

Imaging in the brain is difficult, as many molecular probes are unable to cross the blood-brain barrier (BBB). Dr. Miller and his lab have found ways to improve imaging in the deep tissue of the brain by tapping the bioluminescent properties of the firefly. Miller’s team has modified the natural firefly luciferin substrate to increase its ability to access the brains of live animals. The glow of the brain can be used to detect gene expression, enzyme activity, monitor disease progression, or gauge the effectiveness of new drugs.