One group within the lab studies the neurophysiology of epilepsy; this group studies how seizures start, spread and stop, and tries to understand how they might be predicted and ultimately terminated. Our final goal is to have a more thorough knowledge of the mechanisms of epilepsy and to use this information to design better treatments for patients suffering from seizures. We use both animal models and information collected from patients with epilepsy. These questions overlap with investigations into the mechanisms of sleep, normal language, auditory and other cognitive processing.
We are also studying some of the basic mechanisms of how the brain works. We are particularly interested in a deeper knowledge of how language, emotion, auditory and memory processing occur. One of the ongoing studies focuses on directly decoding neural activity representing the semantic basis of language. Decoding semantic information directly would allow entire words or concepts to be generated in a more natural fashion and could lead to intuitive and efficient communication prostheses and interface systems.
While human cognition during the waking state is of obvious interest, it is equally fascinating what happens while we are asleep. Despite an enormous literature on this topic remarkable little is known about the fundamental mechanisms of sleep activity in the human brain or the purpose of those activities. Our current research is focused on understanding how some of the characteristic rhythms and elements of sleep arise in the human cortex. Projects, which we are just beginning, delve more deeply into what is occurring during dreaming. We are also examining the role of sleep during memory formation and consolidation.
Interwoven with all of our investigations is an interest in the oscillatory and rhythmic activity of the brain. These are features, which are obviously present during sleeping and dreaming but also during normal cognitive activity, make a fundamental component of active cognition and have gone pathologically askew during epilepsy. We are investigating the mechanisms and importance of different oscillatory activity during many different brain states and how this may reflect network activity.
The largely basic science issues which we focus on in much of our work culminates in a practical launching point with our work on brain-computer interfaces. The focus of these projects is on mechanisms through which recording and therapeutic systems can be interfaced with the nervous system – a form of brain-machine interface research. These projects include the development of new recording systems collaboration with researchers in Dr. Sodini’s laboratory at MIT. This also includes new ways of measuring and modulating neural activity using nanofacbricated magnetic materials. This is a collaboration with Dr. Nian Sun and colleagues at Northeastern University. Ultimately, all of these projects aim toward the creation of both invasive and non-invasive mechanisms for restoring damaged neuronal function.
Clinical Research and Trials
The lab itself is not focused on clinical trials per se. But, the Epilepsy Service of the Massachusetts General Hospital maintains an active research program, and some patients will have the opportunity to enroll in research or clinical trials.