Kathleen Cullen is the Raj and Neera Singh Professor of Biomedical Engineering, and professor of Neuroscience, and Otolaryngology. She is also the Director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Hearing and Balance. Dr. Cullen founded and directs Johns Hopkins’ Systems Neuroscience and Neuroengineering Laboratory (SNNL) which spans the interdisciplinary fields of neural engineering and neuroscience harnessing the power of innovative computational and neurophysiological methodologies. The experimental approach is multidisciplinary and includes high-density neuronal recordings during natural behaviors, the application of deep convolutional networks for movement analysis, and neural computational approaches. The central mission of the research in the SNNL is to advance our fundamental understanding of how the brain encodes and integrates self-motion information, and use this knowledge to drive innovative translational and clinical developments (such as neural prosthetics) to improve patient outcomes. The scientific environment within the SNNL embeds both basic and clinical research on core topics: vertigo and dizziness, gait and posture, and spatial orientation disorders.
The research in Cullen laboratory has three key objectives:
(1) Fundamental research to understand how the brain builds predictive models of the sensory consequences of self-motion. This computation is required to ensure accurate behavior and stable perception in everyday life. Research combines advanced neuronal recording approaches, multi-dimensional motion and virtual reality platforms, and quantification and targeted manipulation of neuronal populations in brainstem, cerebellum, thalamus and cortex. For example, the SNNL recently discovered how cerebellar neurons selectively encode unexpected self-motion to ensure the maintenance of posture and stable perception. This work advances our understanding how the brain achieves the flexibility required to continuously calibrate relationships between motor signals and the resultant sensory feedback, a computation necessary for our subjective awareness that we control both our actions and their sensory consequences.
(2) Studies of vestibular/balance disorders aimed at understanding how the brain recovers from peripheral vestibular disease and injury. Research in this model is also aimed at optimizing a novel vestibular prosthesis, in collaboration with neurologists, physical therapists and other neuroengineers and neuroscientists. By linking improvements in prosthetic driven behavior to specific changes in neuronal activities at different stages of processing in the vestibular system, the SNNL has establish methods to successively improve the restoration of vestibular labyrinth function in patients. The SNNL is also using the objective assessment differences in the vestibular input experienced by healthy subjects versus patients during typical everyday activities to develop novel rehabilitation and behavioral training treatment approaches.
(3) The development of transformative multichannel recording, quantitative, molecular, and genetic approaches to advance basic and clinical research on the vestibular system and self-motion processing pathways. Experiments combine state-of-the-art molecular techniques with neuronal ensemble recording and optogenetic-based approaches. The aim is to bridge the gap between genes, neuronal circuits, and behavior, to improve the brain’s ability to compensate following sensory loss.
In addition to her research activities, Dr. Cullen currently serves as President of the Society for the Neural Control of Movement (NCM) as well as the steering committee for NASA’s Decadal Survey on Biological and Physical Sciences Research in Space 2023-2032. Throughout her career, she has been committed to improving diversity in science, including the promotion, visibility, and representation of women and underrepresented minorities. Dr. Cullen has been an active member of the Scientific Advisory Board of the National Space Biomedical Research Institute, which works with NASA to identify health risks in extended space flight. Dr. Cullen is also a Section Editor for Neuroscience (Official journal: International Brain Research Organization (IBRO) and Deputy Editor (NeuroEngineering) of Biomedical Engineering (BME) Frontiers (AAAS). She has also served as a reviewing editor on Editorial Boards including the Journal of Neuroscience, Journal of Neurophysiology, and Journal of Research in Otolaryngology (JARO). Dr. Cullen has given over 250 national and international Plenary, Keynote, and invited lectures and has also served as a domain expert for well-known media sources (e.g. The Washington Post, Scientific American, CNN, PBS, Wall Street Journal, CTV news, National Public Radio (NPR)).
Dr. Cullen received a bachelor’s degree in Biomedical Engineering and Neuroscience from Brown University and a PhD in Neuroscience from the University of Chicago. After doctoral studies, Dr. Cullen was a Fellow at the Montreal Neurological Institute in the Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery. In 1994, Dr. Cullen became an assistant professor in the Department of Physiology at McGill University, with appointments in Biomedical Engineering, Neuroscience, and Otolaryngology. In 2002, Cullen was appointed a William Dawson Chair in recognition of her work in Systems Neuroscience / Neural Engineering and served as Director of McGill’s Aerospace Medical Research Unit comprising four faculty and their research labs. Dr. Cullen joined Johns Hopkins University in 2016.
- Raj and Neera Singh Professor, Biomedical Engineering
- Professor, Neuroscience
- Professor, Otolaryngology
- Co-Director, Center for Hearing and Balance
- Director, Johns Hopkins Systems Neuroscience and Neuroengineering Laboratory (SNNL)
Affiliated Centers & Institutes
- PhD, Neuroscience, The University of Chicago, 1991
- BS, Neuroscience/Bioelectrical Engineering, Brown University, 1984
February 7, 2018Kathleen Cullen explains why years of practice allow elite athletes to train their brains so they can stay on balance after elaborate maneuvers.
October 30, 2017The latest publication by Kathleen Cullen, professor of biomedical engineering, is featured in the current issue of Nature Neuroscience, a special focus issue devoted to spatial cognition.
October 30, 2016Growing up as one of four daughters in a suburban Boston family, Kathleen Cullen bonded with her engineer father over their shared love of science and physics.