Justus Kebschull earns major awards for brain-mapping projects
Justus Kebschull, assistant professor of biomedical engineering, has received the Pershing Square Foundation’s Inaugural MIND Prize and an NIH BRAIN CONNECTS award to support his brain mapping research.
The Pershing Square Foundation’s MIND Prize honors early-to-mid-career investigators pursuing innovative research on neurodegenerative diseases. The $750,000 award will support his research to investigate how the cerebellum is connected to the rest of the brain by measuring multi-synaptic connectivity through the use of barcodes as markers to track the movement of viruses through the brain. The project will transform brain connectivity tracing by developing a scalable, multi-synaptic, single-cell resolution brain mapping tool. This will enable Kebschull and his lab to better understand the impact of cerebellar function and neurodegeneration on behavior.
In the human brain, 86 billion neurons form more than 100 trillion connections with other neurons at junctions called synapses. Scientists are now working on an ambitious effort to develop technologies to map these connections across the brain, from mice to humans. These detailed wiring diagrams can help uncover the logic of the brain’s neural code, leading to a better understanding of how this circuitry makes us who we are and how it could be re-wired to treat brain diseases.
Kebschull is part of a team of researchers that has been awarded a grant from the National Institutes of Health BRAIN Initiative Connectivity Across Scales (BRAIN CONNECTS) program. This project is a part of the NIH’s Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies® (BRAIN) Initiative.
The goal of the BRAIN Initiative is to transform neuroscience research by mapping and revealing fundamental principles governing the neural circuits of behavior and informing new approaches to the treatment of brain disorders. BRAIN CONNECTS is the third large-scale, transformative project resulting from the BRAIN Initiative and supports researchers who will develop technologies to comprehensively map neural connections in both humans and laboratory animals.
The initial round of BRAIN CONNECTS awards will support researchers at more than 40 university and research institutions across the globe with 11 grants totaling $150 million over five years.
Kebschull and collaborators will utilize their portion of the funding for their research on “Mapping brain-wide connectivity of neuronal types using barcoded connectomics.” Xiaoyin Chen, assistant investigator at the Allen Institute for Brain Science, and Ian Wickersham, principal research scientist at the MIT McGovern Institute, are co-investigators for the project.
The project aims to optimize and develop barcode sequencing-based neuroanatomical techniques to achieve brain-wide, high-throughput, highly multiplexed mapping of axonal projections and synaptic connectivity of neuronal types at cellular resolution in primate brains. The team will work together to apply these techniques to generate an unprecedented multi-resolution map of brain-wide projections and synaptic inputs of neurons in the macaque visual cortex at cellular resolution.