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Pasadena-based HMRI Receives $1 Million W. M. Keck Foundation Grant to Study Fluctuating Brain Function

Published on Wednesday, January 15, 2020 | 11:00 am

Pasadena’s Huntington Medical Research Institutes (HMRI) announced Wednesday a $1 million, three-year award from the W. M. Keck Foundation to help support research into a deeper understanding of fluctuating sodium in the nervous system as the root cause of fluctuating brain function.

The project will leverage HMRI’s pioneering neurosciences program that has undertaken longitudinal studies of the brain and nervous system over the past 20 years.

“We are thrilled to receive this prestigious award from the W. M. Keck Foundation to fund this futuristic study,” said Dr. Julia E. Bradsher, President and CEO of HMRI.

“If successful, the results and their implications will be an enormous leap forward in explaining how brain fluctuations arise in both health and disease. This truly is a great achievement for HMRI, our scientific team in the neurosciences, and our collaborators.”

In this project, HMRI proposes that fluctuations of sodium in cerebrospinal fluid and brain tissue will alter neuronal firing rates and thus impact brain functions, whose features vary depending on the site of the fluctuation and the health of the neurons. In a healthy brain, this will change the normal synchronization between neural circuits that might then manifest as fluctuations in mood, alertness, or cognitive abilities. The study extends findings from previous research on fluctuations underlying migraine to other brain fluctuations, including Alzheimer’s disease (AD). In the prior studies, it is suggested that sodium fluctuation may cause imperfect synchronization of brain regions, leading to abnormal sensory perception as in migraine, or difficulty recalling memories, slower problem solving, and poor decision making.

“We get to test a theory that can impact everyone by explaining how brain functions fluctuate and identifying a target to correct deviations”, said Dr. Michael B. Harrington, Scientific Director of the HMRI Neurosciences Program and principal investigator on this new project. “We are thrilled and honored to get this peer-reviewed award as our idea would be too unconventional for normal federal funding review processes.”

Along with Dr. Harrington, the research will be conducted by an interdisciplinary team of scientists, including Dr. Brian Stoltz, a chemistry researcher from the California Institute of Technology (CalTech) and Dr. Linda Petzold, a mathematician at University of California, Santa Barbara.







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