Researchers Receive UT System Grant to Investigate the Brain

Dr. Greg Dussor

Dr. Greg Dussor

Dr. Jun Wang

Dr. Jun Wang

Dr. Zhenpeng

Dr. Zhenpeng Qin

Three UT Dallas researchers are among the first grant recipients of a new UT System initiative that aims to fuel interdisciplinary and pioneering research on the human brain.

Among the 158 proposals submitted to UT BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies), 45 recipients from various UT System institutions were named, totaling $4.5 million in funding. The UT Dallas recipients are: Dr. Zhenpeng Qin and Dr. Jun Wang, both from the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science, and Dr. Greg Dussor from the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences. Each will receive $100,000.

“UT Dallas researchers are doing very exciting work on how the brain works. I am looking forward to seeing great results from our grant recipients, as well as others across the state,” said Dr. Bruce Gnade, who is vice president of research and holds the Distinguished Chair in Microelectronics at UT Dallas.

Dussor, who is an associate professor and teaches classes on neurophysiology and neuropharmacology, will use his grant to investigate whether the hormone prolactin, which is elevated during migraines, contributes differently to headaches in women versus men.

“Migraines are three times more common in women than in men, but the mechanisms underlying this difference are not known,” Dussor said. “If prolactin plays a greater role in females, targeting prolactin or its receptors may lead to one of the first sex-specific therapeutics for migraine.”

Dr. Jun Wang, assistant professor of bioengineering, said the goal of his project is to decode intended speech production directly from brain activity patterns, or, in other words, to predict the thought of articulation.

In collaboration with UT Austin and Cook Children’s Hospital at Fort Worth, Wang will collect brain activity data using magnetoencephalography, which is a noninvasive neuroimaging technique, from both normal subjects and patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) during speech production.

“We hope this project will provide a solid foundation for the development of next generation, efficient brain-computer interfaces, which are highly needed for the communication of individuals with locked-in syndrome — for individuals who are fully paralyzed but aware due to brain damage or neurodegenerative diseases, like ALS,” Wang said.

Dr. Zhenpeng Qin, an assistant professor in the mechanical engineering department, will use his grant to study how neurotransmitters regulate synaptic transmission in the nervous system. In collaboration with Dr. Sven Kroener, assistant professor in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences, he hopes to develop a technique that allows targeted delivery of neurotransmitters with high precision that would facilitate the study of neurotransmitter function in neural networks.

“If successful, the new technique will be a valuable new tool that will benefit basic neurophysiology and neurobiological research and potentially for studying neurological diseases and brain disorders,” Qin said.

The UT BRAIN initiative is supported by the UT System Neuroscience and Neurotechnology Research Institute, which was created by the UT System Board of Regents in 2014 to facilitate team approaches to brain research and leverage the broad scientific expertise and resources available throughout the UT System.    

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].

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