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School of Engineering Professor Jamie Tyler, Ph.D., is principal investigator on a new National Science Foundation (NSF) project that seeks to combine information and methods from neuroscience and biomedical engineering to functionally map deep-brain circuits that underlie human cognition, emotion, and decision making.

Keith McGregor, Ph.D., an associate professor in the UAB School of Health Professions is co-principal investigator on the three-year project, titled “A transformative approach for mapping spatial and temporal dynamics of anterior cingulate function in humans.” Other co-PIs include Meredith Reid, Ph.D., from Auburn University’s MRI Research Center; and Marco Santello, Ph.D. and Chris Blais, Ph.D., from Arizona State University.

“We are focusing on circuits that control cognition, emotion and decision-making because research has shown that those circuits are compartmentalized into specific anatomical regions, which give rise to characteristic brain activity patterns and behavioral responses to stimuli,” Tyler said.

Tyler, a UAB neuroscience graduate who recently returned to help spearhead the university’s Neuroengineering Ph.D. program, has spent his career developing new innovations in brain science. In this project he says he hopes to move beyond current imaging methods that passively localize functional brain anatomy. “Future medical treatments for cognitive and mental health disorders are going to rely on non-invasive technology that can map the brain at high resolutions by actively modulating human brain activity,” Tyler said. “Current imaging methods that passively localize functional brain anatomy are not sufficient for innovating treatment or to advance next-generation brain-computer interface technologies.”

Building on the deep-brain stimulation technology that Tyler developed in recent years, the team will use similar ultra-sound methods to fill the scientific and technical gaps.

The project has been designed to achieve three major goals:

  1. advance state-of-the-art, functional human brain mapping and brain-computer interface methods,
  2. increase the detail of information regarding circuit mechanisms that give rise to human cognition and emotion, and
  3. demonstrate potential new approaches to treating brain disorders and injuries. Insights gained from this project can lead to a new understanding of the mechanisms by which human deep-brain activity gives rise to cognitive-emotional behaviors, such as social thought processes, impulsivity, and affect.

Tyler is a professor in the UAB Department of Biomedical Engineering, a joint department between the Schools of Engineering and Medicine. He says this NSF project is an example of the type of natural collaborations that attracted him to UAB. “Since my time as a student in the 1990s, UAB has been known for cross-disciplinary collaboration,” Tyler said. “This project is an example of innovation that is only possible when scientists from different specializations are able to work together. With the team we have at UAB, as well as our partners at Auburn and ASU, we are very optimistic about the potential for this research.”