CNIC research highlighted in FIU’s next generation of discovery

Neuroscience and brain imaging

A person enters a doctor’s office for a physical. As part of the routine, blood pressure is taken and temperature recorded and, finally, the brain is scanned.

In a single scan, lurking disorders within the mind and body are revealed. A doctor can diagnose neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s Disease, as well as psychological issues including depression and even addiction. Symptoms may or may not be present. The need for lengthy testing and intensive evaluations are no more. A single scan. A snapshot of the brain. A picture that tells a story and gives a roadmap for curing or overcoming problems.

The science isn’t there yet, but in the next 50 years, FIU researchers believe it will get there.

According to Angela Laird, director of FIU’s Cognitive Neuroscience and Imaging Center, in 50 years, with a prick of your finger and a hand-held imaging device, clinicians may be able to immediately assess your health status in terms of physical, emotional, genetic and neurobiological profiles, and then prescribe an optimized treatment strategy based on your unique brain signatures.

The brain is the most complex organ in the human body. It makes up 2 percent of a body’s mass yet uses 20 percent of its blood and oxygen supply. It controls the way we think. It controls our movements. It dictates the way we make decisions. And it determines how we recall memories. It is powerful and yet fragile.

FIU scientists from across the disciplines – medicine, nursing, education, engineering, arts and sciences – have dedicated their careers to understanding mental processes in the healthy and diseased human brain. They study brain activity, including language, cognition, emotion, action, sensory perception and mental health, while working to develop new technologies in cognitive neuroimaging.

Through collaborative research, the future is likely to bring advances in neurotechnology that allow physicians to tap into or activate the nervous system to provide personalized neurotherapy, says Ranu Jung, chair of biomedical engineering and interim dean of the College of Engineering & Computing.

But more than diagnostics and treatment, FIU researchers believe cognitive neuroscience also can lead to better students. It is likely that students in the class of 2065 will be taught using methods developed from studies under way today. Using neuroimaging techniques, these studies examine how college STEM majors learn reasoning and problem-solving skills. Understanding this could help educators better craft the way these courses are taught in the future.

Today’s FIU scientists hope that someday the brain scan will be as routine as an EKG.

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