May 2018                                                          View this email in your browser

Cracking the neural code, restoring senses

Berkeley researchers from the Brohawn, Waller, and Adesnik labs created a holographic brain modulator to activate or suppress neurons in the brain in a way that mimics real patterns of brain activity. Read the story in Newsweek and the research article in Nature Neuroscience.

Pictured: A sample hologram with 50 randomly distributed neuron targets spanning a region 500 microns square and 250 microns deep.

This research is a step toward our goal of building an all-optical Cortical Modem that can both record from a million neurons (read) and deliver patterned neuronal stimulation to hundreds of neurons (write) in the cortex. The Cortical Modem will enable neuroscientists to systematically test theories of brain function in animals and, eventually, in humans. Berkeley researchers were awarded a contract for up to $21.6 M by DARPA, who envision that this technology may one day provide new treatments for injured Service members living with sensory deficits, such as restoring visual perceptions to those who have lost their sight.
Watch “DARPA at Berkeley: Developing a Million Neuron Cortical Modem.”

Pictured: PhD Program student Irene Grossrubatscher measures and manipulates the coordinated activity of thousands of neurons in live zebrafish embryos as they engage in behaviors. The Cortical Modem will allow similar experiments in other animal models and humans.

Research discoveries


Lights on Learning: Cortico-striatal feedback required to learn brain control of an external device

How does the brain learn to control an external device? In a study published in Neuron, researchers from the Costa lab at Columbia and the Carmena lab at UC Berkeley trained neurons that normally process visual input to control a computer-generated tone, and uncovered general circuit mechanisms for learning. Read our Q&A with co-first author and PhD Program alum Ryan Neely.

Pictured: Areas of the brain that get input from the eyes can be hijacked to control something outside the brain, such as a computer that generates a tone. Yellow arrows represent feedback between the rat’s visual cortex and striatum, which is key to learning new tasks. From Berkeley News, image by Ryan Neely.


Video game treatment for visual impairment

Amblyopia is a form of visual impairment that afflicts 2-3% of children, in which one eye does not communicate properly with the brain. Standard treatment is to wear a patch over the stronger eye for at least 100 hours so that the amblyopic eye gets stronger with forced use. Berkeley researchers from the Levi lab tested whether playing an action video game improved vision in children with amblyopia. They found that just 20 hours of video game play in dichoptic mode (decreased contrast to the stronger eye) or with the stronger eye patched improved visual acuity slightly more than the standard treatment. Since video game treatment is fun and results in vision improvement in less time, it may be a more effective option with higher levels of patient compliance. Read the research article in Vision Research.

Pictured: Figure 3 from "An action video game for the treatment of amblyopia in children: A feasibility study," showing the mirror stereoscope used for dichoptic mode and screenshots from the custom-made child-friendly action video game.

Introducing StimDust 

Berkeley engineers, led by Rikky Muller and Michel Maharbiz, have taken neural dust sensors a step forward by building the smallest, most efficient wireless nerve stimulator to date. StimDust (stimulating neural dust) is a 6.5 cubic millimeter implantable device capable of stimulating major therapeutic targets in the peripheral nervous system. Read the press release in Berkeley News.

Pictured: StimDust was implanted in a live rodent via a cuff around the sciatic nerve and was able to control hind leg motion. (From Berkeley News, photo courtesy of Rikky Muller).



CRCNS Conference

Interested in computational neuroscience? Attend the Collaborative Research in Computational Neuroscience (CRCNS) Conference, to be held at the Lawrence Hall of Science from June 13-15, 2018. Abstract submission is closed, but all are still welcome to register to attend. Learn more and register... 

Honors and awards


Yang Dan, Professor of Neurobiology and Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, and Ehud Isacoff, Professor of Neurobiology and Director of the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute, were elected to the National Academy of Sciences.


Marla Feller, Professor and Head of Neurobiology, Mark D’Esposito, Professor of Psychology and Director of the Henry H. Wheeler, Jr. Brain Imaging Center, and Robert Knight, Professor of Psychology, were elected to the American Association for the Advancement of Science.



Helen Bateup, Assistant Professor of Neurobiology, received the 2018 C.J. Herrick Award in Neuroanatomy for her contributions to the field of comparative neuroanatomy.


PhD Program News


Congratulations to our 2018 graduates!  

From left to right, starting on the top row: Timothy Day, Alexander Naka, Vladimir Senatorov, Keven Laboy-Juárez, Amy LeMessurier, Kimberly Long, Elena Ryapolova-Webb, Falk Lieder, Katelyn Arnemann, Wren Thomas, Elizabeth Lorenc. Not pictured: Anwar Nunez-Elizalde.

Read our Q&A with the graduates to learn about their biggest discoveries, future plans, and words of advice.

Marla Feller receives Distinguished Faculty Mentor Award

Congratulations to Marla Feller, Professor and Head of Neurobiology, on receiving a 2018 Distinguished Faculty Mentor Award. Nominations for this award are made by the faculty member’s graduate student mentees. It is a tremendous honor to receive one of these awards – only three faculty members across the UC Berkeley campus are selected each year. Read more…

Three of our PhD students are 2018 NSF Fellowship awardees

Congratulations to Hayley Bounds, Celia Ford, and Kevin Yu on receiving NSF Graduate Research Fellowships! We would also like to congratulate Ellen Zippi and Althea Cavanaugh, who received NSF Fellowships in 2017, before joining our program.

Two of our PhD students received a prestigious travel award

Maimon Rose and Tobias Schmid, both members of the Yartsev lab, received International Society of Neuroethology Heiligenberg Student Travel Awards

Alumni profiles

Working side by side: Ariel Rokem is a data scientist for academia

“Once we figure out how to collaborate, there are a lot of things we can do that we couldn’t do otherwise.”

Ariel Rokem describes several key motivations for his current work: to create software that can take biomedical imaging data and make inferences that inform clinical decision making, to make research more reproducible and robust, and to put forth new collaborative models for practicing science. In our Q&A, Rokem talks about his path from experimental scientist to data scientist and current position at the University of Washington eScience Institute. Read the full profile...

Signs of resilience: Beth Mormino images aging brains to identify predictors of Alzheimer’s Disease

"Everyone’s brain has its own individual differences, like a fingerprint."

Beth Mormino imagines a future where a series of neuroimaging and genetic tests will be used to predict whether or not an aging individual is at risk for developing Alzheimer’s Disease. This level of understanding will open the door for medical treatments to prevent cognitive decline. Currently Assistant Professor of Neurology & Neurological Sciences at Stanford University, Mormino talks about her love of brain scans and focused research trajectory. Read the full profile...

To die will be an awfully big adventure: Peter Pan studies neuron aging

“Science is science, and scientists should stick to science for its own good.”

Chun-Liang (Peter) Pan is currently Associate Professor at National Taiwan University where he investigates the genetic program of neuronal aging and how neurons interact with other cell types to coordinate responses to stress. In our Q&A, Pan talks about his unique career path, from medical school to military service to studying fundamental neuroscience in C. elegans. Read the full profile...

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