Experts from Massachusetts General Hospital Departments of Neurology, Neurosurgery, Psychiatry and beyond gathered at the Bulfinch tents to attend the hospital’s second annual Neuroscience Day, which was created to foster collaboration among researchers and physicians from one of the world’s largest neuroscience communities.

The Co-Directors of Mass General Neuroscience, William Curry, MD, Jonathan Rosand, MD, and Joshua Roffman, MD, worked together to create a program that consisted of several talks from world renowned scientists, the inaugural Scientific Projects to Accelerate Research and Collaboration (SPARC) awards, the announcement of the Brain Health Begins Before Birth (B4) initiative and research poster sessions.

“Neuroscience Day at Mass General celebrates our rich community, providing the opportunity to convene and to display the scientific accomplishments of clinical and research teams from across the hospital," said Dr. Curry during his welcome address. "More than a celebration, Neuroscience Day is an immediate opportunity for us to network with each other, in keeping with our motto, the ‘Power of Connectivity.’”

This year’s keynote address was given by Steven E. Hyman, MD, director of the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research at the Broad Institute and former director of the National Institute of Mental Health. Dr. Hyman’s lecture brought to view the tremendous progress made on the mechanistic understanding of psychiatric diseases, but also highlighted the enormous tasks that physicians and researchers face in providing treatments for brain diseases.

Jonathon Rosand, MD, Rudy Tanzi, PhD and Henry McCance
Resonating with Dr. Hyman’s talk were the SPARC Awards, a grant supported by the Henry and Allison McCance Center for Brain Health, which aims to catalyze multidisciplinary research efforts. Dr. Rosand introduced this year’s recipients, and representatives from each team gave a brief synopsis of their funded project. They included studies that ranged from how sleep clears Alzheimer’s disease associated proteins from the brain to the development of noninvasive tools to activate brain networks in the clinical setting (read a summary of each team’s SPARC Award proposal below).

Anchoring the day’s speakers was Dr. Roffman, who announced the new scientific B4 initiative. The goal of this work is to discover, develop and implement early-life interventions, beginning before and during early pregnancy, that are protective through childhood and adolescence.

“It's become very clear that the best time to intervene is very early in life—perhaps even before conception—by harnessing the developing brain's plasticity to forestall these disorders before they begin,” said Dr. Roffman.

Neuroscience Day had over 80 researchers present and discuss their posters to the broader Mass General neuroscience community. Department chiefs, residents and postdoctoral researchers exchanged ideas, shared their work and built relationships, making Neuroscience Day a true success.

SPARC Awardees and Project Summaries

Big Data Analytics for Detection of Atrial Fibrillation to Prevent Cognitive Decline

Lead Investigator: Christopher Anderson, MD, MMSc, Department of Neurology

In collaboration with the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, this project will take on the challenge of leveraging large multidimensional datasets to identify specific signatures for subclinical atrial fibrillation (AF), which could be used to identify individuals for whom treatment of their AF might help prevent cognitive decline. This project will lay the groundwork for future big data projects to help inform clinical trials and cost-effective therapies to promote healthy brain aging.

Using Teeth as a New Tool to Predict Exposure to Early Life Adversity and Future Risk for Brain Disease

Lead Investigator: Erin Dunn, PhD, MPH, Department of Psychiatry

Exposure to early life adversity is a major risk factor for depression. The goal of this project is to investigate the baby teeth of children born to mothers who were exposed to stress during pregnancy. Using teeth as a measuring tool, instead of something that parents often throw away, to help detect and direct at risk children to intervention programs decades before onset of depressive symptoms.

Ultrasound Pulsation to Treat of Disorders of Consciousness and Psychiatric Illnesses

Lead Investigator: Bastien Guerin, PhD, MS, MEng, Department of Radiology

Low intensity focused ultrasound pulsation (LIFUP) is an non-invasive technique has the potential to reach deep regions of the brain in a pinpoint manner. The therapeutic potential of LIFUP is enormous, but its mechanisms of action are not well understood. This project will use advanced brain imaging techniques to better understanding how LIFUP activates neural networks. This project will help bring this technology into the clinical setting with the intention to treat coma and psychiatric patients.

The Neurorecovery Collaborative

Lead Investigator: Leigh Hochberg, MD, PhD, Department of Neurology

The MGH Center for Neurotechnology and Neurorecovery (CNTR), MGH Institute for Health Professions (IHP) and Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital have come together to form the Neurorecovery Collaborative, which is reimagining how patients at Mass General recover from acute neurologic injury. The Collaborative is establishing a neuroscience-informed learning health care system for patients with acute neurologic injury, improving methods for identifying and harnessing the critical periods for neurorehabilitation, and creating novel, neurotechnology-facilitated therapies to improve brain health.

Protecting Youth At Risk for Cannabis Use and Psychosis

Lead Investigator: Daphne Holt, MD, PhD, Department of Psychiatry

Cannabis use during adolescence increases the risk for developing psychotic symptoms and schizophrenia. The rise in cannabis availability, due to widespread legalization, may have the unanticipated effect of increasing the incidence of psychosis. To address this public health issue and test a new approach for preventing psychosis, this study will look at middle school-aged adolescents who are at risk for cannabis abuse or psychosis and provide these at-risk adolescents with resilience training. This psychological intervention training aims to improve brain function and reduce risk for negative long-term outcomes such as schizophrenia.

Improving Brain Health Through Treatment of Circadian Disruption

Lead Investigator: Jacqueline Lane, PhD, Department of Anesthesia

Today, with global travel, ubiquitous electronic screens, and diverse work patterns, many people live out of synch with the internal 24-hour rhythm of their body, called our circadian rhythm.  Living with this desynchrony increases one’s risk of psychiatric, metabolic, and sleep disorders.  The goal of this project is to improve brain health through improved diagnosis and treatment of circadian rhythm desynchrony by launching a home-based study of people with circadian rhythm disorders to test novel diagnostics to improve the understanding of connection between the brain and circadian desynchrony, and identify subtypes of circadian rhythm disorders.

Discovery of Biomarkers for Human Adult Neurogenesis

Lead Investigator: Christiane Wrann, DVM, PhD, Department of Cardiology, Cardiovascular Research Center

Effective treatment options for Alzheimer’s disease are still very limited. Focusing on neurogenesis — how new neurons emerge and grow in the hippocampus, which is a part of the brain important for learning and memory — is now a promising option.  In Alzheimer’s disease, neurogenesis is impaired, contributing to cognitive decline. Currently, there are no methods, especially biomarkers, to monitor this process in a living human brain. But these biomarkers are needed to develop therapies based on neurogenesis.  This project will use a combination of cutting-edge techniques to discover biomarkers for neurogenesis in the hippocampus of adult humans.

Probing Sleep Physiology in Alzheimer's Disease

Lead Investigator: Can Zhang, MD, PhD, Department of Neurology

The protein Aβ is a critical driver of Alzheimer’s disease (AD), which causes neuronal hyper-excitability, and recent studies have linked its clearance to sleep. This animals study will use diverse approaches to investigate an Aβ reducing therapeutic called gamma-secretase modulator or GSM and its effects on neuronal activity, restoration of disrupted circadian rhythms and sleep improvement. Results from this study may advance the development of interventions to halt the progression of AD.