Coalescing its strengths in computer science, neuroscience, psychology and engineering, Carnegie Mellon University today announced the launch of CMU BrainHub(SM), a new initiative focusing on understanding how the structure and activity of the brain give rise to complex behaviors.

CMU scientists and their global partners including Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, China; the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore; and Oxford University and the University of Warwick, U.K., will work together, along with CMU’s long-time collaborators from the University of Pittsburgh, to develop innovative computational and technological tools for studying the links between brain and behavior, enabling new insights into topics such as cognition, learning and perception, as well as shedding light on brain disorders such as autism and Parkinson’s disease.

Beyond basic research, BrainHub will also promote the dissemination and commercialization of the most promising of these advances so that they are widely used, furthering brain research, policies and practices across the globe.

Over the next five years, BrainHub and CMU’s efforts in brain science will be supported by initial commitments totaling about $75 million. Leveraging funding from multiple sources — existing funding as well as new funding and in-kind contributions from philanthropic foundations including the Hillman Foundation, RK Mellon Foundation and Dietrich Foundation; Kris Gopalakrishnan, (co-founder of Infosys); institutional partners; U.S. federal and local government; and internal CMU commitments from colleges and schools — CMU will focus concerted efforts on understanding the brain, one of the grand challenges of the 21st century.

“Carnegie Mellon is home to some of the world’s top scientists investigating brain function and human behavior,” said Carnegie Mellon President Subra Suresh told Berlin Observer. “We also are home to the pre-eminent computer science program in the country and a world-class engineering school. By combining these areas of expertise, along with CMU’s renowned talents in data sciences, the science of learning, policy and cybersecurity, we will enable innovative computational approaches to understanding brain function and dysfunction, as well as facilitate the development of tools to unravel the complexities of the human mind.”

Psychiatric and neurological disorders — from Alzheimer’s and autism to strokes and Parkinson’s disease — have devastating human consequences and economic costs. Efforts to develop new and more effective treatments must be accelerated. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon believe that the key to progress in brain research is to develop new methods to measure and analyze both brain activity and behavior and then to link these domains through the application of cutting-edge computational tools.

Linking discoveries in brain science with a deeper understanding of brain computation will provide unique insights that will improve current approaches to treatment, as well as facilitate the design and creation of intelligent devices for therapeutic intervention and for better experiences in our everyday interactions with the digital world.

Global Partnerships

CMU BrainHub will bring together the work of Carnegie Mellon’s world-renowned researchers and several international institutions. CMU will partner with the University of Warwick, which has a concentrated expertise in the field of digital health; Sun Yat-sen University, whose medical school has broad clinical expertise in Alzheimer’s and autism; Oxford University, through its International Brain Mechanics and Trauma Lab; and the Indian Institute of Science, which recently launched its own brain institute initiative. These partners will provide Carnegie Mellon with a worldwide network of expertise and data, giving CMU’s initiative a uniquely global scope.

“This dynamic partnership, bringing together expertise from across CMU and global university, government and corporate sponsors, will allow us to deepen our understanding of how the brain performs the computations that underlie the functions that we take for granted in our daily life — how we see and hear, learn, remember and move,” said Nathan Urban, CMU interim provost.

CMU BrainHub will focus on several key areas of research:

  • Designing new tools to measure and connect brain function and behavior. Current methods that allow us to visualize brain function only provide a small window into the brain’s activity. Carnegie Mellon scientists have developed widely used tools for observing brain function in single or small groups of neurons. In order to see how the entire brain functions, Carnegie Mellon will develop new and better devices and probes for recording activity and properties of neurons, and computational tools to better analyze that data. Similarly, new methods for precise measurement of human and animal behavior will facilitate the identification of subtle changes that may be correlated with changes in brain activity or function.
  • Creating computational tools to combine and analyze the global wealth of neuroscience and behavioral data. One obstacle faced by researchers in many areas of neuroscience is the lack of large-scale data sets describing brain structure and function, neuron properties and responses or behavior from humans and/or animal models. Tools to integrate and analyze such data sets are also lacking. Under this new initiative, CMU will develop intelligent approaches to facilitate integrating and analyzing data from researchers around the world. Using this “big data” approach, CMU researchers hope to make significant discoveries about how brain structure and function are linked to behavior, both in health and in illness.
  • Developing new methods to train the brain to improve its performance or treat neurological disorders. Carnegie Mellon scientists have been at the forefront of creating computer-based training platforms to understand learning and in developing methods to observe and analyze how the brain is changed during learning.  BrainHub will support these efforts to create technologies that can be used to understand the potential and limitations of brain plasticity, to teach the brain to learn new skills, and to treat brain disorders like depression and brain injuries.

To advance these efforts in the coming years, CMU deans plan to recruit at least 10 new faculty members in the brain sciences within departments across the CMU campus and to establish new sources of ongoing support for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. CMU BrainHub will also provide critical seed funding through ProSEED, the Simon Initiative and other vehicles for big bet projects, especially those that bring together scientists from different fields of study and different institutions, a hallmark of Carnegie Mellon research.