Updated: Nov 3, 2020
I'm not very good at remembering the auto-reply function when I leave for vacation at work, so I hope it's not too far out of the realm of possibilities that I wouldn't make a post letting you guys know I'd be out for a little while. Sorry about that.
This past week I went to visit my son for a few days. I live for those periods of time where I spend quality time with my son. He's living near the Rockies, which serve as a great silhouette during sunsets. We decided to go camping at the top of a mountain, which always sounds like fun at first, but he found out that camping can involve quite a bit of work, certainly more than he expected. That said, it was great to be able to teach him about nature and survival skills that he may not learn otherwise. He's like a sponge. It was such a wonderful bonding experience working with him in the outdoors. As always, it was very difficult to say goodbye. I'll see you again soon, little buddy.
Some real progress had been made on a few of my many projects. Here's the latest:
The Stanford Coil Project continues. I have to admit, while it is so much fun thinking of and designing new hardware, it is such a pain writing about it. The real trouble is getting a long enough time period where I can focus on the details I'm writing about. Oh, time management. When I see that some scientists have published more than a few articles a year as first-authors, I really wonder how that's possible? Do they hire staff just to write? Are they not busy? How??? Any tips would be appreciated. Anyway, I'll keep hashing away at this article sentence by sentence and hopefully can have a solid draft complete with figures and tables in the next few weeks.
The MIT Brain/Body experiment is getting close to launching, but we are still working out some of the bugs. Now that I have added an MEG acquisition along with the many other steps in our protocol, it adds just a bit more complexity. Hopefully with a good bit of practice with some helpful undergrad volunteers, we can work everything out and start enrolling participants within a few weeks. I'll discuss more about this and my other research projects on my research page very soon.
We just received word that our MGH project has been funded to start understanding how non-invasive neurostimulation works in humans. The prior DBS work with TBI patients that I was a part of at Stanford showed that invasive brain stimulation works. Now I'm working with the team trying to bring a non-invasive version to the clinic. The Martinos Center is primarily focused on MRI technology development, not necessarily ultrasound, so we need to build a new system to conduct our experiments. I'm going to have a lot of fun with that! I will also explain more about the nature of this research on the research page soon.
At Brigham and Women's Hospital, I've spent quite a bit of time as a research trainee with one of the world's best focused ultrasound researchers learning how to apply focused ultrasound to animals for brain stimulation. I haven't experimented with the animals directly yet, but I've met and fed them. They are pretty neat! At this point, I've become comfortable with calibrating and characterizing transducers, which is one of the many steps needed to define the parameters for stimulation in the brain. There are so many factors to consider, such as the nature of wave propagation through a hard medium such as the skull when trying to sonicate a soft target within the skull. I'm quite excited to continue learning more about the physics behind it all.
Finally, my last project is something that I really want to get off the ground, but it's at concept stage at this point. It involves understanding the effects of psychedelic treatments for psychiatric disorders. You may have heard out there that the administration of ibogaine in a controlled environment followed by guided therapy seems to show promise for people struggling with opiates. Check this article out: https://akademiai.com/doi/pdf/10.1556/2054.2018.004. Where addiction seems to be a "bottom-up", almost visceral drive to seek the drug, it seems ibogane opens the mind to achieve some sort of "top-down" enlightenment that allows people to let go of their addiction completely. There's a push to see the effects of the treatment for veterans with PTSD, and there is some anecdotal evidence that the treatment is working for what was once an intractable condition.
The problem is that the drug is a Schedule 1 substance. In other words, it is illegal in the US. If we really want to understand the true effects of this drug, I think we need a two-pronged approach: psychology and neuroscience. We need to be able to functionally scan brains before and after the treatment. If brain activity is changed as a result of the drug, how? Do all participants have a successful outcome? Do the volunteers subjectively feel that they have changed for the better? What is the change? It's one's a big one. It's going to take a very large amount of dedication to see this type of research through, but I believe there is something quite interesting happening in the brain.
I'm trying to build collaborative network of researchers and clinicians across the country to make this type of research become a reality. Like all research, the largest obstacle is funding, although there are many, many obstacles to get this study started. I'm also reaching out to non-profits and veteran organizations for support and will continue to do so until we can get this thing off the ground. If you know anyone who would be interested in the research, either to support it or to participate, reach out to me and let's talk.
That's it for now. Now that I'm back I'll try to get back on a regular schedule with posts. Do you have questions about these research projects? Are you thinking of becoming a scientist and have your own questions you'd like to pursue? Are you a veteran and wish to participate in research? Let me know either in the comments or by contacting me directly using the link at the top of the page.