This is our pleasure to welcome you at our Neuro X Annual Research Symposium, that will take place on November 20, 2023, at Campus Biotech. We have assembled a full-day scientific event, with exciting contributions from internationally renowned speakers, as well as highlight contributions from our labs. Please visit this page regularly, as information will be updated on a regular basis.
Registration and welcome coffee
Stéphanie Lacour: Welcome address
Session 1 - Chair: Dimitri Van De Ville
Jose Garrido: Graphene-based bidirectional neural interfaces
Prof Jose Garrido is a world expert of graphene-based neural interfaces.
Abstract Establishing a reliable bidirectional communication interface between the nervous system and electronic devices is crucial for exploiting the full potential of neurotechnology. Despite recent advancements, current technologies evidence important shortcomings, e.g. lack of focal stimulation, low signal-to-noise ratio, etc. Thus, efforts to explore novel materials are essential for the development of next-generation neural interfaces. Graphene and graphene-based materials possess an attractive set of physicochemical properties holding great potential for implantable neural interfaces. This presentation provides an overview on several graphene-based technologies and devices aiming at developing an efficient bidirectional communication with the nervous system. The main goal of this talk is to discuss opportunities of graphene-based neurotechnologies in neuroscience and implantable medical applications, and at the same time to identify the main challenges ahead.
Bio Jose A. Garrido is an ICREA Research Professor and leader of the ICN2 Advanced Electronic Materials and Devices Group, which explores novel electronic materials, such as graphene and other 2D materials, and their potential in electronic and bioelectronic applications. After his initial training in Telecommunication Engineering at the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, Jose Garrido spent several years at TUM (Germany) where he became lecturer at the department of physics. In 2015, he joined the Institut Català de Nanociència i tecnologia, where he is vice-director. Jose A Garrido is also founder, Chief Scientific Officer, and member of Board of Directors of INBRAIN Neuroelectronics, an ICN2 spin-off that aims at the commercialization of graphene-based neural devices for medical applications.
Abstract BMIs are widely used in studying neural signals (analytical applications), assisting people with disabilities (prosthetic applications), and treating neurological symptoms (therapeutic applications). Traditional BMIs rely on bulky and powerful computers that can hinder mobility. The next generation of BMIs must be compact, low-power devices while maintaining high performance. In this presentation, I will discuss the critical technological challenges facing next-generation brain-machine interfaces. Finally, I will showcase our recent innovations at the convergence of circuit design and AI, offering solutions for realizing next-generation miniaturized BMIs.Bio MohammadAli Shaeri received the BSc and MSc degrees both in electrical engineering from K.N. Toosi University of Technology, Tehran, Iran, in 2008 and 2011, respectively. He earned his PhD degree in cognitive neuroscience at the School of Cognitive Sciences, IPM-Institute for Research in Fundamental Sciences, Tehran, Iran, in 2018. He joined INTegrated ELECTronics (INTELECT) lab at York University, Toronto, Canada, as a postdoctoral researcher in 2019. Since 2021, MohammadAli has been with the Integrated Neurotechnologies Laboratory (INL) at EPFL, Geneva, Switzerland, as a research scientist. He has published several papers and holds a patent in the general area of neural engineering and neural signal processing. His research interests include signal processing, information theory, machine learning, neural decoding, brain-machine interfaces, and implantable neural prostheses.
Dr Nako Nakatsuka will join Neuro X as Tenure Track Assistant Professor in January 2024
Abstract Advancing our understanding of brain (dys)function necessitates novel nanotools that can monitor chemical signaling with high spatial resolutions. While advanced methods to record electrical signaling from neurons are prevalent (e.g., microelectrode arrays, MEAs), tools to monitor chemical signaling have been limited. We have tackled this challenge by coupling the inherent selectivity of DNA-based recognition elements termed aptamers, with nanoscale pipettes with openings of ca. 10 nm. Aptamers are systematically designed oligonucleotide receptors that exhibit highly specific and selective recognition of targets. Aptamers that recognize small-molecule neurotransmitters, including serotonin and dopamine, have recently been isolated. Upon reversible target binding, aptamers undergo a rearrangement of the negatively charged backbone, and these dynamic structural changes can be transduced as measurable changes in current through the nanoscale orifice of the sensors. Nanoscale confinement of the sensor surface results in single-molecule sensitivity while simultaneously reducing biofouling for long-term recordings in complex environments, overcoming a critical bottleneck for clinical biosensors. We have demonstrated the capacity to detect physiologically relevant differences in neurotransmitter amounts released by live neurons in complex media with unprecedented sensitivity. Further, through seamless integration into patch clamp setups, our sensors have been deployed to track endogenous dopamine release in acute brain slices. Through collaboration, we are currently tracking serotonin while simultaneously recording electrical responses in acute mouse embryos isolated on MEAs. Thus, we demonstrate the translatability of these sensors to other neuroscience groups and the possibility to conduct continuous recordings in localized regions with nanoscale resolution. Bio Nako Nakatsuka was raised in Tokyo, Japan and moved to the USA to attend Fordham University in New York. After undergrad studies, she joined the University of California, Los Angeles and worked in the labs of Professors Anne M. Andrews and Paul S. Weiss to work on neurotransmitter-specific aptamers. In 2018, Nako Nakatsuka received the ETH postdoctoral fellowship and joined the Laboratory of Biosensors and Bioelectronics. Currently as a senior scientist, her research is focused on understanding the mechanisms of neurodegenerative diseases by integrating neurotransmitter-specific DNA aptamers to electrophysiology platforms for simultaneous chemical and electrical recordings. These multifunctional sensors can be interfaced with biological systems such as live neuronal networks and brain tissue ex vivo.
Dr Chrstina Grimm has been selected in 2023 as Neuro X postdoc fellow for her project entitled "Using optogenetics-fMRI to track the functional integration progress of hPSC-derived cell transplantation in vivo"
Abstract A recent breakthrough in Human pluripotent stem cell (hPSC) research has paved the way for the development of a replacement therapy for Parkinson's disease (PD). With the ability to generate and transplant highly pure mesencephalic dopaminergic neurons from hPSCs (grafted mesDA), mesDA-neuronal loss and its associated symptoms in PD may be significantly alleviated, making it the first disease-modifying treatment of its kind. However, despite several ongoing Phase I clinical trials, various challenges are still to be overcome before it can be fully translated to clinical use. My talk will lay out an experimental roadmap to address two of these fundamental challenges. First, I will introduce a comprehensive and longitudinal investigation strategy as to how local functional integration of grafted mesDA neurons can be assessed and monitored in an in vivo setting. This approach will provide a thorough understanding of the fate of these cells following implantation. Second, I will touch on the notion of complete, long-range integration of these cells into the functional circuitry of the host tissue. This aspect is crucial in order to evaluate their potential for neuro-restoration and assess their impact on system-level plasticity. To this end, I will describe an experimental strategy that entails an hPSC replacement therapy in conjunction with optogenetics and functional MRI (opto-fMRI) in a rat model. The proposed experimental approaches have the potential to boost the field of regenerative medicine, offering a new way to quantify the functional integration of mesDA cells in vivo, longitudinally, and minimally-invasively.
Bio After obtaining a BSc in Molecular Biology and a MSc in Translational Neurosciences from Ulm University, Christina Grimm joined ETHZ under the supervision of Dr Valerio Zerbi with the Neural Control of Movement lab (Prof Nicole Wenderoth); she obtained her PhD, entitled "Combining Optogenetics with fMRI to study comples network dynamics" in 2022, then moved to EPFL.
Prof Karen Rommelfanger is a world expert in neuroethics.
Abstract The power of neurotechnology represents the advances not only in neuroscience but also convergence with increasing sophistication with engineering, AI, machine learning, and enhanced computing power. Further neurotechnology’s reach will be promulgate through interactions with other sensing devices and integration into the internet infrastructure. These advances promise a future where untold suffering can be relieved in ways never before possible. It’s also equally important to recognize that these unprecedented and continually advancing processes will transform our lives: the lives of those who acquired catastrophic injuries and disease as well as those of us who will care from them. This kind of potential transformation comes with increasing responsibilities to thoughtfully and intentionally design ethical considerations into the work of neuroscience. We want a future where we are not blindsided by the fundamental changes in the ways we view ourselves and relationships with one another. In this talk we will discuss the highlights of pressing ethical issues that intersect with advances in neuroscience and neurotechnology and ways we can strategically think through them together.
Relevant articles: • Global Neuroethics Summit Delegates et al, Neuroethics Questions for Neuroscientists in the International Brain Initiatives, Neuron, 100:1, 19-36 (2018). • Rommelfanger KS, Pustilnik A, Salles, Mind the Gap: A Lessons learned from Neurorights AAAS Science and Diplomacy (2022). • Rommelfanger KS, Ramos KM, Salles A, Conceptual conundrums for neuroscience Neuron 111: 608-609 (2023).
Bio Dr. Karen S. Rommelfanger received her PhD in neuroscience and received postdoctoral training in neuroscience and neuroethics. Her research explores how evolving neuroscience and neurotechnologies challenge societal definitions of disease and medicine. Dr. Rommelfanger is an adjunct Associate Professor in the Departments of Neurology and Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. She is the founder of the Neuroethics Program Director at Emory University’s Center for Ethics. She is co-chair of the Neuroethics Workgroup of the International Brain Initiative. She is an appointed member to the NIH BRAIN Initiative Neuroethics Working Group and was ambassador to the EU Human Brain Project’s Ethics Advisory Board. She also served as Neuroethics Subgroup member of the Advisory Committee to the Director at NIH tasked to design a roadmap for BRAIN 2025. She is a member of the Global Futures Council of the World Economic Forum.
Dr Sara Stampacchia has been selected in 2023 as Neuro X postdoc fellow for her project entitled "Technology-based antipsychotic therapy in Parkinson’s disease".
Abstract Parkinson’s Disease (PD) is frequently accompanied by hallucinations, which have been linked to a more severe form of PD with psychosis and dementia. Hallucinations, being unpredictable, subjective and private experiences, pose challenges for empirical testing, limiting our understanding of their underlying brain mechanisms. In past work, we have overcome these limitations by developing a robotics-based approach to induce, under controlled experimental conditions, a specific type of minor hallucination (MH), commonly present in the earliest stages of PD. By merging the robotic technology with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), we have identified a specific functional connectivity (FC) network associated with this type of MH and previous analyses, focusing on group differences, have shown that alterations in this network during rest are associated with the presence of MH in PD. However, and in light with recent findings showing the highly heterogeneous and individual-specific nature of FC patterns (also known as FC-fingerprints), we delved into individual FC features in PD patients with and without MH. Our findings revealed that FC remains individual-specific even in the presence of PD, and that different FC-fingerprints distinguish patients with vs. without MH in their daily lives. These results hold significant implications for treatment, emphasizing the necessity to tailor interventions to individual-specific forms. The current clinical management of hallucinations in PD is challenging due to the limited effectiveness of the pharmacological treatment and the diverse individual responses. Real-time fMRI neurofeedback is a neuromodulation technique based on real-time neuroimaging-based biofeedback that enable individuals to intentionally modulate their own brain activity using personalised strategies, adaptable to each person’s unique brain-activity baseline. In this presentation, I will introduce a new project, funded by the Neuro-X Institute and hosted by the Blanke and Van De Ville Labs, where we will explore the potential of real-time fMRI-NF as a tool to mitigate hallucinations in PD. If successful, this would constitute the first individualized and non-invasive treatment for hallucinations in PD. Bio After graduating in psychology from the University of Pisa, Sara Stampacchia obtained her PhD from the University of York for her work entitled "Shared mechanisms support controlled retrieval from semantic and episodic memory: Evidence from semantic aphasia". She then received postdoctoral training at the University of York and University of Geneva before joining EPFL in 2022.
Dr Estelle Raffin is a PRIMA SNSF fellow. Abstract Visual field loss manifests in about one-third of stroke patients, significantly impairing everyday life functioning. Despite the increasing demand arising from an aging population, there is currently no accepted therapeutic approach for these patients. Counteracting the old postulate that the visual system cannot recover, recent encouraging evidence indicate that intensive visual-attentional training paradigms can lead to localized improvements in visual field. In this talk, I will describe how concurrently-applied cross-frequency brain stimulation can boost the outcomes of visual training in these patients. I will show our latest results that are based a cohort of 16 stroke patients, enrolled in a cross-over and double-blinded trial. Bio Estelle Raffin obtained her PhD at the Université of Saint-Etienne on Phantom Limbs Movement. She then received postdoctoral training at the Danish Center for Magnetic Resonance and at the Grenoble Neuroscience Institute, before joining EPFL as a PRIMA Swiss National Science Foundation fellow.
Prof Valerio Zerbi is assistant professor at the Neuro X Institute.
Abstract The recent advancements in MRI-based tools for mapping brain function in rodents provide a robust platform for investigating the biological mechanisms that influence functional (dys)connectivity. In this presentation, I will delve into our recent contributions to this field, emphasizing the promising opportunities they afford. Specifically, I will explore the application of perturbational techniques, such as chemo- and optogenetics, to dissect fundamental aspects of brain function. This approach aims to reveal the causal role of neuromodulatory systems in whole-brain activity, with a particular emphasis on the locus coeruleus/noradrenergic system. These examples underscore the potential of rodent functional imaging to advance our understanding of the origins and determinants of human functional connectivity.
Bio Prof Valerio Zerbi is a pioneer of preclinical magnetic resonance functional neuroimaging. At his lab at EPFL, Valerio and his team use functional MRI recordings in rodents in combination with neural modulation and computational approaches to study the mechanisms that link cellular activity to large-scale network (dys)function. His long-term ambition is to advance the development of personalised strategies based on imaging and artificial intelligence, for the diagnosis and prognosis of developmental brain disorders. Valerio is the recipient of the ETH Postdoctoral (2014), the Swiss National Science Foundation AMBIZIONE (2017) and ECCELLENZA (2021) fellowships.
Prof Martin Schrimpf is Tenure Track Assistant Professor at the Neuro X Institute.
Abstract Research in the brain and cognitive sciences attempts to uncover the neural mechanisms underlying intelligent behavior. Due to the complexities of brain processing, studies necessarily had to start with a narrow scope of experimental investigation and computational modeling. I will argue that it is time for our field to take the next step: build system models that capture neural mechanisms and supported behaviors in entire domains of intelligence. To make progress on system models, we are developing the Brain-Score platform which, to date, hosts over 50 benchmarks of neural and behavioral experiments that models can be tested on. Brain-Score enables measurable progress on addressing the mismatches between today's models and the brain, such as feedforward architectures that lack recurrence, the lack of robustness to changes in the input, the number of (supervised) updates during model training, and generalization to novel image domains. Finally I will argue that the newest generation of models can be used to predict the behavioral effects of neural interventions, and to drive new experiments. Bio Prof Schrimpf's research focuses on a computational understanding of the neural mechanisms underlying natural intelligence in vision and language. To achieve this goal, he bridges Deep Learning, Neuroscience, and Cognitive Science, building artificial neural network models that match the brain’s neural representations in their internal processing and are aligned to human behavior in their outputs. Martin Schrimpf completed his PhD at the MIT Brain and Cognitive Sciences department with Jim DiCarlo, following Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in computer science at TUM, LMU, and UNA. Previous work includes research in human-like vision at Harvard, natural language processing + reinforcement learning at Salesforce, as well as several other projects in industry and two startups. His work has been recognized in the news at Science magazine, MIT News, and Scientific American. He is currently a tenure-track assistant professor at EPFL at the Neuro-X institute, with appointments at the School of Life Sciences, and the School of Computer and Communication Sciences.
Abstract For a long time, prosthetic development for amputees focused on designing robotic devices to restore motor functions. In the last decade, several groups, including the TNE lab, have aimed to enhance prosthetics with sensory feedback. A new generation of bionic limbs allows amputees to perceive objects' shapes, sizes, and textures. But, in the quest to restore the rich palette of sensory feedback for prosthetic users, one sensory modality has often been neglected: thermal sensation. Beyond the obvious detection of cool, warm, or dangerously hot objects, thermal feedback is also essential for material discrimination and wetness perception. But even more important is the presence of thermal sensation for the social aspect of touch. In recent work, we reported the presence of stable phantom thermal sensations in amputees. In this talk, I will show how we have exploited this finding in a Thermal Prosthetic Hand that provides real-time and natural temperature feedback to transradial amputees and discuss future prostheses that mimic the natural hand. Bio Solaiman Shokur obtained his Ph.D. with distinction at EPFL in 2013 at the Laboratory of Robotic Systems of Prof. Hannes Bleuler. From 2010 to 2012, he was a visiting scientist at the Nicolelis Lab at Duke University (NC, USA). During this time, he studied the so-called rubber hand illusion on non-human primates and co-authored several seminal studies on bidirectional Brain-machine interfaces, which integrated sensory feedback through intracortical microstimulation. From 2013 to 2019, he was the research coordinator of the AASDAP laboratory in Sao Paulo, where he developed non-invasive neurorehabilitation tools for patients with spinal cord injuries. In 2019, Dr. Shokur joined the Translational Neural Engineering Laboratory of Prof. Micera at EPFL as a senior scientist and Co-PI for several projects on sensory restoration for upper limb amputees and human enhancement.
Abstract Axon regeneration can be induced across anatomically complete spinal cord injury (SCI), but robust functional restoration has been elusive. Whether restoring neurological functions requires directed regeneration of axons from specific neuronal subpopulations to their natural target regions remains unclear. To address this question, we applied projection-specific and comparative single-nucleus RNA sequencing to identify neuronal subpopulations that restore walking after incomplete SCI. We show that chemoattracting and guiding the transected axons of these neurons to their natural target region led to substantial recovery of walking after complete SCI in mice, whereas regeneration of axons simply across the lesion had no effect. Thus, reestablishing the natural projections of characterized neurons forms an essential part of axon regeneration strategies aimed at restoring lost neurological functions.
Bio Mark Anderson After graduating from UCLA, Mark worked under the supervision of Prof Sofroniew on the role of astrocytes in axonal regeneration after Spinal Cord Injury. He then joined Prof Courtine's group at EPFL where he obtained his PhD about the development of a biological repair strategy for SCI. Mark then received a SNSF fellowship to become an EPFL group leader, during which he focused on leveraging single cell technologies to molecularly define the neuron subpopulations involved in spinal cord injury recovery. Mark now holds a joint laboratory direction between the Wyss Center and CHUV, where he pursues the development of clinically-ready viral vectors for translational use, the determination of regenerative requirements of specific neuron subtypes, and the scaling of the regenerative gene therapy into larger animal models.
Bio Jordan Squair After obtaining his BSc and MSc at the University of British Columbia on neuromechanics and neurophysiology, Jordan Squair worked there on blood pressure control and obtained his PhD in 2018, followed by MD in 2003.He then joined Prof Courtine's group at EPFL to work on the biological repair of the spinal cord, developing new impactful methods for the analysis of single-neuron data, and leveraging them to develop new approaches for regeneration of specific neuron subtypes in the context of spinal cord injury. Jordan Squair is the recipient of the BioInnovation Institute & Science Prize for Innovation 2023.
Dr Michael Tanter is a pioneer of functional ultrasound imaging (fUS).
Abstract Biomedical ultrasound has undergone a true revolution over the past two decades. In the field of imaging, three fundamental barriers - temporal resolution, sensitivity to blood flow, and spatial resolution - have been surpassed by several orders of magnitude. These conceptual changes have a major impact in the field of radiology, particularly in brain imaging for both fundamental neuroscience research and clinical applications in neuroimaging. Firstly, leveraging the concept of acoustic holography, ultra-fast ultrasound imaging at thousands of frames per second has made it possible to detect very subtle variations in blood flow in small brain vessels during neuronal activity. This has introduced functional ultrasound imaging (fUSi) as a distinct modality for brain imaging. Its portability, cost-effectiveness, and sensitivity make it particularly suitable for imaging the brain during behavior, learning, or cognitive studies in awake and freely moving animals. It is also used for functional brain connectomics in small animal models for systemic neuroscience. Clinical applications are already under study for functional brain imaging in newborn humans, intraoperative functional imaging, and future contactless brain-machine interfaces. Secondly, when combined with intravenously injected contrast agents, ultra-fast imaging allows non-invasive, in vivo imaging of cerebral hemodynamics at the microscopic scale throughout the entire brain. This Ultrasound Localization Microscopy (ULM) of the cerebrovascular system is achieved by locating and tracking the exact position of millions of 1 to 3 µm diameter microbubbles moving within the cerebral vascular network. By monitoring the dynamics of these microbubbles during neuronal activity, it is now possible, for the first time, to perform functional brain imaging of the entire brain at the microscopic scale in rodents. With increasing evidence of early vascular or neurovascular dysfunction in neurodevelopmental and neurodegenerative diseases, such functional Ultrasound Localization Microscopy could enhance the fundamental understanding, early detection, and monitoring of alterations in the developing and aging brain. Ultrasound is thus the first medical modality capable of non-invasively visualizing a whole organ vasculature at the microscopic scale. Beyond applications of ultrasound enabling the "reading" of brain activity, our recent work on sonogenetics shows that it is possible to "write" with high spatial and temporal resolution in the brain using ultrasonic wave. The first proof-of-concept demonstrations suggest that it may become possible to restore vision in blind patients by directly imprinting images of the surrounding world remotely into the visual cortex using Ultrasound.
Bio Mickael Tanter is a research professor of the French National Institute for Health and Medical Research (Inserm), elected member of the european Academy of Science, distinguished professor of ESPCI Paris and AXA Chair Professor. He is heading the laboratory Inserm “Physics for Medicine Paris” (Inserm, CNRS, ESPCI Paris), Paris, France. He is also the director of the first Inserm Technology Research Accelerator created in 2016 and dedicated to Biomedical Ultrasound. Mickael Tanter is an expert in biomedical ultrasound and wave physics. He authored more than 300 peer-reviewed papers and book chapters and is the recipient of 50 international patents. In the last 20 years, he co-invented several major innovations in Biomedical Ultrasound: Transient Elastography, Ultrafast Ultrasound and Shear Wave Elastography, functional Ultrasound (fUS) imaging of brain activity and Superresolution Ultrasound based on Ultrasound Localization Microscopy. He received many national and international distinctions (among them the Honored Lecture of the Radiology Society of North America in 2012, the Grand Prize of Medicine and Medical Research of Paris city in 2011, the Grand Prize of Fondation de la Recherche Médicale in 2016 and the Carl Hellmuth Hertz Prize of IEEE Ultrasonics, Ferroelectrics and Frequency Control society in 2017, and the highest distinction of the European Society in Molecular Imaging ESMI in 2018). M. Tanter is also the co-founder of several MedTech companies in Biomedical Ultrasound (Supersonic Imagine, CardiaWave, Iconeus).