Brain Mapping Work of NARSAD Grantee Featured in Today’s New York Times

Deanna Barch, Ph.D., Expert on brain research
Deanna Barch, Ph.D.

Four-time NARSAD Grantee (most recently a 2013 NARSAD Distinguished Investigator Grantee), Deanna Barch, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology in Arts & Sciences and Professor of Radiology at Washington University in St. Louis, is developing, with her colleagues, the first interactive wiring diagram of the living, working human brain. This exciting new work is featured in today’s New York Times article “The Brain, in Exquisite Detail.”

“What I do is look at how the different parts of the brain work together to produce behavior,” Dr. Barch told The New York Times. She and colleagues are working to understand “how does the brain work together and is there something about how well those different parts of the brain talk to each other that helps you do certain kinds of behaviors.” She explains that the team has state of the art techniques and equipment that are enabling this to be done in a much finer grained way than has been done before.

Using advanced MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) technology to conduct scans of the brain and obtaining cognitive, psychological, physical and genetic assessments of 1,200 volunteers―including people across a wide range of educational and income levels as well as racial backgrounds―Dr. Barch and her colleagues are going to create a baseline database for structure and activity in a healthy brain that can be cross-referenced with personality traits, cognitive skills and genetics. The database will be openly available online.

Dr. Barch expects the work to add to the growing knowledge about how the brain works and how it contributes to behavior (“basic science”) as well as to provide insight for clinical application by perhaps identifying early indicators of when people might be starting to have difficulties with brain connectivity. As with most diseases, early intervention in mental illness can make a substantial difference in the prognosis for recovery.

The work of Foundation Scientific Council Member, Helen Mayberg, M.D., Professor of Psychiatry, Neurology, and Radiology at Emory University School of Medicine is also highlighted in the article. Dr. Mayberg has been leading pioneering work with brain scan technology for twenty years and currently uses fMRI technology to guide her work in testing deep brain stimulation as a treatment option for intractable depression. Her work can greatly benefit from this new database. With it, she told The New York Times, she can ask, “how is this really critical node connected” to other parts of the brain, information that will inform future research and surgery. (Dr. Mayberg presents a free webinar on Deep Brain Stimulation on January 14th at 2 P.M. Eastern. Register Today.)

This project that Dr. Barch is working on is part of a $40 million five-year effort known as the Human Connectome Project, supported by the National Institutes of Health. The Human Connectome Project is one of a growing number of large, collaborative information-gathering efforts that signal a new level of excitement in neuroscience, as rapid technological advances seem to be bringing the dream of figuring out the human brain into the realm of reality. Consisting of two consortia: a collaboration among Washington University, the University of Minnesota and the University of Oxford, dedicated to developing a map of the human brain (as demonstrated by Dr. Barch’s project) and the other among Harvard University, Massachusetts General Hospital and the University of California, Los Angeles to advance imaging technology.

Dr. Barch and team are more than a third of the way through the collecting of information. Once collection is complete, they will process the data and then begin to build their three-dimensional, interactive map of the human brain.

Read more about this exciting research in The New York Times article.

Register for a free webinar titled “Deep Brain Stimulation & Depression: A Decade of Progress” with Helen Mayberg.