Funded projects

Call 1

March 2023

£300,000 was awarded in our first call to fund three multi-investigator and 3 flexible projects.
Read about the funded projects below and visit our members directory to find out more about the project investigators.

Flexible awards

State-dependency of deep-brain transcranial ultrasonic neurostimulation

Investigators: Miriam Klein-Flugge (University of Oxford), Elsa Fouragnan (University of Plymouth), Lilian Weber (University of Oxford), Siti Yakuub (University of Plymouth), Johannes Algermissen (University of Oxford)

The interest in transcranial ultrasound stimulation (TUS) as a new neuromodulation technique that can target deep brain regions has grown exponentially. The first paper in humans was published 10 years ago. However, despite several hundred ultrasound users world-wide, the development of reliable and effective protocols is lagging behind. This is partly because little is known about how sonication interacts with the functional brain state – an ongoing question for any neuromodulation technique. The default for TUS protocols applied “offline” (i.e., to induce neuroplasticity) is to sonicate at rest. However, this may not be the most effective way to interact with specific circuits and induce long-term changes. Here we propose to run a pilot study (n=20) to examine the state-dependency of offline-TUS in a well-established emotion processing task. This could shape best standards of a growing field, help understand TUS biomechanisms, and impact potential future clinical applications of TUS.

Developing a dual neuromodulation approach for major depressive disorder: understanding action on frontal cortex using functional near infra-red spectroscopy (fNIRS)

Investigators: Paul Briley (University of Nottingham), Sudheer Lankappa (University of Plymouth), Peter Liddle (University of Oxford), Richard Morriss (University of Nottingham)

Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is approved by NICE for the treatment of depression. Clinical TMS uses magnetic pulses to modify activity of frontal brain regions. The amount of benefit that patients get from TMS is variable. We are developing an approach for boosting the effects of TMS by delivering it in synchrony with another neuromodulation technique called transcranial alternating current stimulation (tACS). We are commencing a study of tACS-synchronised TMS (“tsTMS”) in people with depression to understand how the two techniques work together. We are requesting funds to purchase a device for non-invasively monitoring activity within frontal cortex. This device, called “functional near infrared spectroscopy” (fNIRS), is quick to setup and can be used before, during, and after stimulation. This would allow us to study the extent, and region specificity, of tsTMS modulation of frontal cortical activity, beyond that of TMS alone, furthering the development of our approach.

Development of Patient and Public Involvement for Neurotechnologies

Investigators: Antonio Valentin (King's College London), Tamar Makin (University College London), Tiago Da Silva Costa (Newcastle University), Kat Richardson (CloseNIT Network, Newcastle University), Amparo Guemes (University of Cambridge)

Active Patient and Public Involvement (PPI) is crucial to co-develop user-centred, ethically sound and sustainable neurotechnologies, whilst promoting transparency, accountability and inclusivity. We aim to establish a structured approach to PPI in the development and use of neurotechnologies in the UK, by setting clear principles, guidelines and tools for co-production by stakeholders including patients, clinicians, researchers, regulators, and the public. As a first step, we will host a workshop that celebrates successful PPI initiatives. We will first hear from patients, clinicians, researchers, and regulators about their effective PPI implementation methods. Next, we will discuss the practical steps for establishing PPI. Beyond the networking opportunities, deliverables include the consolidation, in a workshop white paper, of the best existing guidelines, policies, and online resources to support effective PPI strategies. This will form the basis for establishing the first set of guidelines and tools for PPI in neurotechnologies design in the UK.

Multi-investigator awards

Characterization of the clinical and neuromodulatory effects of transcutaneous Spinal Cord Stimulation in Essential Tremor

Investigators: Dario Farina (Imperial College London), Anna Latorre (University College London), Kailash Bhatia (University College London), Alejandro Pascual Valdunciel (Imperial College London)

Tremor is a motor disorder which can severely affect the quality of life of patients, leading to significant socio-economic impact. In this project we aim to explore a non-invasive and cost-effective solution for mitigating tremor. Particularly, we will investigate the effectiveness of transcutaneous spinal cord stimulation (tSCS) in treating tremor and how this technique interferes with motor control. tSCS involves weak currents delivered through electrodes attached to the skin. It has been proven to modulate the central nervous system and based on our previous research on nerve stimulation, we assume that it could potentially disrupt the tremorgenic oscillations at the spinal cord, preventing them to reach the muscles. We will explore the tremor reduction efficacy and safety of tSCS in Essential Tremor and attempt to characterize the neuromodulatory effects on motor control of different stimulation parameters, including a closed-loop stimulation strategy synced with the tremor.

The neurochemical basis of Focused ultrasound stimulation (FUS) on Memory

Investigators: JeYoung Jung (University of Nottingham), Marcus Kaiser (University of Nottingham), Matthew Lambon Ralph (University of Cambridge), Elena Stylianopoulou (University of Cardiff)

Dementia affects millions globally and the loss of neurotransmitters is a hallmark of dementia. Decreased excitatory (glutamate) and inhibitory (GABA) neurotransmitters have been linked to cognitive and behavioural symptoms in dementia. Focused ultrasound stimulation modulates neural activity by affecting cell membrane features. Unlike other techniques, FUS has high spatial resolution and can stimulate deep-brain structures involved in dementia. This proposal suggests using FUS combined with neuroimaging for developing personalized dementia treatment. The proposal aims to explore and validate the efficacy of FUS in modulating neurotransmitter systems to improve human memory. It involves investigating neurochemical mechanisms of FUS effects, predicting outcomes based on individual neural characteristics, and developing evidence-based FUS protocols to improve memory. The proposal contributes to understanding FUS effects on memory and potentially lead to new treatments for dementia.

Ultrasound neuromodulation with real-time 3-photon imaging

Investigators: Sophie Morse (Imperial College London), Simon Schultz (Imperial College London), James Choi (Imperial College London), Ann Go (Imperial College London)

Focused ultrasound is capable of non-invasive neuronal modulation. It can, with high spatial precision, reach deep brain structures normally accessible only through invasive deep brain stimulation. Producing both short and long-lasting changes in neuronal excitability and firing rates, focused ultrasound offers enormous potential as an investigative tool for neuroscience and as a treatment for neurological and psychiatric disorders. How ultrasound induces neuromodulation, however, needs to be better understood in order to develop more precise and effective protocols for the treatment of promising brain disorders. Three-photon microscopy can non-invasively perform deep-tissue, live-cell structural and functional imaging. With its ability to image structures such as the murine hippocampi without the need of a craniotomy, it is an ideal tool to better understand the mechanism of ultrasound neuromodulation. We here propose to build the first simultaneous ultrasound neuromodulation and three-photon imaging system to advance our mechanistic understanding and improve patient treatments.