Carnegie Mellon University
June 29, 2015

Curci Foundation Provides Funding for Research in Neuroscience

Grant Will Be Used To Train Mice To Use Brain-Computer Interfaces

By Jocelyn Duffy

Curci Foundation Provides Funding for Research in Neuroscience

The Shurl & Kay Curci Foundation has given $200,000 to an interdisciplinary research team at Carnegie Mellon University to support fundamental research in neuroscience. The grant will allow biological sciences and engineering professors to teach mice to use brain-computer interfaces (BCI). The project could provide new information about the neural basis of learning, behavior and motor control, and could lead to the creation of a mouse model for BCI research.

Learning is the result of changes in the connections between individual neurons. To best study learning, researchers must study complex behaviors and the neuronal changes caused by those behaviors. Many tools exist to study neural activity in mice, but most tools for studying complex behavior are tailored for use in humans and other primates.

The Carnegie Mellon research team, led by assistant professors of Biological Sciences Sandra Kuhlman and Aryn Gittis, and Assistant Professor of Biomedical Engineering Steve Chase, plans to bridge this gap by training mice to use a BCI. While observing the subject’s behavior as it uses the BCI, the researchers will use real-time imaging to monitor neuronal activity.

“A major goal of neuroscience is to understand how the brain orchestrates adaptive changes in neuronal network function to learn a new skill. To accomplish this, we need to analyze data on many levels,” said Kuhlman. “With the support of the Curci Foundation, we’ll be able to bring together Carnegie Mellon’s expertise in biology and engineering to begin to find answers that will help us to learn more about learning, memory and disease.”

Ultimately, the researchers, who are all part of the university’s BrainHubSM neuroscience initiative and the joint Carnegie Mellon/University of Pittsburgh Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition, hope that their model will be used to study a number of different open questions in neuroscience, including: what neural circuits respond to practice; how memory is encoded in neural tissue; how feedback can be used to increase the brain’s capacity to store information; and how the brain can be retrained after injury.

As the birthplace of artificial intelligence and cognitive psychology, Carnegie Mellon has been a leader in the study of brain and behavior for more than 50 years. The university has created some of the first cognitive tutors, helped to develop the Jeopardy-winning Watson, founded a groundbreaking doctoral program in neural computation, and completed cutting-edge work in understanding the genetics of autism. Building on its strengths in biology, computer science, psychology, statistics and engineering, CMU recently launched BrainHubSM, a global initiative that focuses on how the structure and activity of the brain give rise to complex behaviors.