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RIC Lands $9M for Molecular Tools for Recording Neuron Activity

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – An investigator at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago plans to use a new $9 million Transformative Research Award from the National Institutes of Health to develop DNA-based technologies that could be used to monitor neuron activity in living brains, RIC said on Tuesday.

Konrad Kording, a research scientist at RIC and associate professor at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine, will use the funding on a project that also will involve Harvard Medical School geneticist George Church and Massachusetts Institute of Technology neuroscientist Ed Boyden.

Kording and his partners plan to build a non-invasive, molecular-biologic tool that can be used to "record, measure, and study how the brain really works," RIC said on Tuesday.

This technology will use an approach that involves engineering DNA polymerases and adding extra DNA to neurons, "effectively transforming them into recording devices that track nerve cell activity," RIC said.

If this approach works, it will allow the activities of neurons that help the brain control body movements to be recorded. This would enable researchers to compare the activities of normal brain behavior to how it behaves when it is disrupted by stroke, for example, and possibly to use this knowledge to develop new cures.

The researchers will apply this technique to mouse models. If successful, it will allow scientists to simultaneously collect recordings of activities from all the nerve cells in the mouse brain.

"The brain produces more information in 30 seconds than the Hubble telescope produced in its lifetime. Yet, we still understand very little of what's happening inside and how it actually works," Kording said in a statement.

"By starting with mice — a mammal whose brain has only 1/1000th the number of nerve cells of a human brain — this new technique will take a giant step toward our being able to diagnose and treat human conditions," he said.