A Beautiful Mind

Neuroscape Lab Vividly Displays Brain Activity as Tool to Develop Targeted Disease Therapies

Watch the GlassBrain technology in action from the new lab of UCSF neuroscientist Adam Gazzaley, MD, PhD.

In Adam Gazzaley’s new lab, the brain is a kaleidoscope of colors, bursting and pulsing in real time to the rhythm of electronic music.

The mesmerizing visual on the screen is a digital masterpiece – but the UC San Francisco neuroscientist has a much bigger aspiration than just creating art. He wants this to lead to treatments for a variety of brain diseases, including Alzheimer’s, autism and multiple sclerosis.

Adam Gazzaley, MD, PhD

Gazzaley, MD, PhD, opened the Neuroscape lab this month at UCSF’s Mission Bay campus, where he’s developed a way to display a person’s brain activity while it’s thinking, sensing and processing information, allowing researchers to see what areas of the person’s brain are being triggered – or, in the case of certain diseases, not triggered.

Until recently, it was impossible to study brain activity without immobilizing the person inside a big, noisy machine or tethering him or her to computers. At the Neuroscape lab, subjects can move freely to simulate real-world conditions.

One of its first projects was the creation of new imaging technology called GlassBrain, in collaboration with the Swartz Center at UC San Diego and Nvidia, which makes high-end computational computer chips. Brain waves are recorded through electroencephalography (EEG), which measures electrical potentials on the scalp, and projected onto the structures and connecting fibers of a brain image created with Magnetic Resonance Imaging and Diffusion Tensor Imaging. 

Leading the Way Inside the Human Brain

UCSF’s neurology and neuroscience departments consistently are among the best in the nation.

  • Research: The Department of Neurology is the country’s top program in receiving highly competitive federal grants - $60.3 million from the National Institutes of Health in 2013, which is more than double the amount from the next-highest recipient.
  • Patient Care: UCSF Medical Center’s neurology and neurosurgery program ranked fifth in the 2013 U.S. News & World Report Best Hospitals survey.

To demonstrate the technology at the lab’s opening, Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart donned an Oculus Rift virtual reality headset and played a drumming video game designed to enhance brain function, while colorful images of his brain in action showed on the screen. Video games like NeuroDrummer are an entertaining and accessible way that Gazzaley is developing to train the brain.

“I want us to have a platform that enables us to be more creative and aggressive in thinking how software and hardware can be a new medicine to improve brain health,” said Gazzaley, an associate professor of neurology, physiology and psychiatry and director of the UCSF Neuroscience Imaging Center. “Often, high-tech innovations take a decade to move beyond the entertainment industry and reach science and medicine. That needs to change.”

Read the news release to learn more about the Neuroscape lab and Gazzaley’s work.