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NCCIH Research Blog

BRAIN Initiative Research Presented at International Congress on Integrative Medicine and Health

June 17, 2022

Image of Erin Quinlan, Ph.D.

Erin Burke Quinlan, Ph.D.

Program Director

Basic and Mechanistic Research in Complementary and Integrative Health Branch

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health

View biographical sketch

I was pleased to organize a panel presentation on the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies® (BRAIN) Initiative at the International Congress on Integrative Medicine and Health (ICIMH) in May. 

To kick off the session, I gave an overview of the BRAIN Initiative, a partnership between five Federal agencies including NIH that’s revolutionizing our understanding of the human brain. New tools and technologies developed through the Initiative are shedding light on the complex links between brain function and behavior. 

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) is one of 10 NIH Institutes and Centers participating in the BRAIN Initiative. The Initiative’s work aligns with NCCIH’s goals of understanding the fundamental science and usefulness of complementary approaches—specifically how psychological and physical approaches affect behavior in health and disease—and using new tools, models, and methods for such investigations. Ultimately, we hope to be able to leverage the technologies being developed using BRAIN Initiative funding to understand if and how psychological and physical complementary health approaches modulate the structure and function of neural systems.

Speakers Present Their Cutting-Edge Projects 

Three speakers at our ICIMH symposium described their NIH-funded, state-of-the-art research at the intersection between the BRAIN Initiative and complementary and integrative health.

  • Dr. Bin He, from Carnegie Mellon University, spoke on his work on a noninvasive brain-computer interface (BCI) and mind-body awareness training. He explained that the brain regions involved in controlling BCI (i.e., neurofeedback control) overlap with brain regions altered through meditation practice. Mindfulness, specifically mind-body awareness training, may help neurofeedback learning to help control BCI. Dr. He is trying to understand how mindfulness training improves BCI control, which, with devices like robotic arms, could have implications for neurorehabilitation and physical therapy. You can read a summary of one of Dr. He’s studies on mind control of a robotic arm on our website.
  • Dr. Julie Brefczynski-Lewis, from West Virginia University, discussed her research on a wearable and upright positron emission tomography (PET) mobile device that can image the brain in real time and potentially inform the mechanistic understanding of complementary and integrative health approaches. Standard brain imaging involves a big bulky machine, like a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or PET scanner, where individuals must lie flat, and the images are highly sensitive to head motion. Developing a head-only PET scanner with reduced sensitivity to motion could enable exploration of brain function during activities like yoga.
  • Dr. Michael Garwood, from the University of Minnesota, shared information about his work on the development of the first-ever small, lightweight, portable head-only MRI scanner. The scanner could make it possible to carry out structural and functional imaging in remote areas and in underserved populations not able to access traditional MRI systems at large academic hospitals and universities. It could also enable imaging to be performed during behaviors that involve motion, including upright real-time interactions with objects in natural environments.

Upcoming Opportunities

If you’re interested in conducting research like these projects, there are many opportunities for funding through the BRAIN Initiative, including multiple funding opportunities in which NCCIH is participating. If one of these opportunities seems like a good match for your research interests, you may find it helpful to discuss your proposed project with me or the scientific contact listed on the funding opportunity announcement before submitting a grant application. I also encourage you to reach out to BRAIN Initiative–funded investigators for possible collaboration and use cases for their technologies.

You may also want to attend the upcoming 8th Annual BRAIN Initiative Meeting: Open Science, New Tools. This free virtual meeting will take place on June 21 and 22, 2022, and is open to everyone. It will feature a variety of speakers who will discuss scientific developments and potential new directions as well as identify areas for collaboration and research coordination. 

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