Now through Oct. 17, you can vote for the neuroscientist you think is working on the most promising brain research.
The Mind Science nonprofit organization has selected three research teams for its 2022 neuroscience pitch competition.
Launched in 2018, the BrainStorm Neuroscience Pitch Competition funds the promising research of early-career neuroscientists teamed with senior primary investigators. Supporting their pilot studies can help young researchers demonstrate a proof of concept when applying for grants that can support further investigation.
The researchers recorded short videos (hyperlinked in each of the three descriptions below) describing their groundbreaking neuroscience ideas. The finalists also benefit from Mind Science’s mentoring as they learn how to translate complex neuroscience when speaking to a general audience.
Each finalist is guaranteed $30,000 in funding. The general public cast votes online for the best video for an additional $10,000 Audience Choice award.
Vote here by Oct. 17 for the neuroscientist you think is working on the most promising research after viewing their video pitches. Anyone can participate in the voting. The 2022 finalists are:
• Paolo Cardone, University of Liege, Belgium
• Karen Konkoly, Northwestern University
• Breeanne Soteros, PhD, UT Health San Antonio
Mind Science will announce the winner on Oct. 20.
Paolo Cardone studies consciousness at GIGA-Consciousness, the University of Liege in Belgium. Cardone would use Mind Science funding to build upon the established link between brain complexity and consciousness, by studying whether psychedelics can be used to increase brain complexity and thus, consciousness, in post-coma patients diagnosed with consciousness disorders.
When our brains are engaged in an activity, it shows more complexity than when a person is asleep or in a coma. However, patients who suffer from consciousness disorders after a severe brain injury may show signs of wakefulness (opening their eyes, for example) but have low brain complexity. These patients in a vegetative or minimally conscious state may survive a coma only to show no or little signs of consciousness, unable to respond to a simple request like ‘squeeze my hand.’
“We don’t currently have any cure,” Cardone said. “This condition can last for a lifetime, sometimes leading to devastating end-of-life decisions.”
Karen Konkoly is studying how we can dream on demand. In her research at Northwestern University, she strives to develop methods to trigger someone to dream content on demand.
“We aim to provide the first demonstration of real-time experimentally controlled dream content and explore how that may inform us on the functions of dreaming,” Konkoly said. “The practical applications of curated dream content are far-ranging as well — imagine being able to dial up the dream you wish to have tonight.”
Researching workable methods will allow neuroscientists to harness the benefits of dreaming while avoiding the dysfunctional dreams that characterize many psychological disorders.
Dr. Breeanne Soteros, a researcher at UT Health San Antonio, is looking for ways to protect the brain during extended social isolation.
Prolonged isolation can disrupt our ability to think and impair our memory — as many experienced firsthand during the COVID-19 lockdowns. Since social interaction is not always possible, Soteros plans to study how the brain trims synapses — the connections between neurons — during times of extended isolation.
The brain prunes excess synapses as it matures to help make neural processing more efficient, a necessary process as we become adults. When removal goes into overdrive, excessive pruning can destroy brain connections, driving the onset of diseases like Alzheimer’s and schizophrenia.
“The answer might not be to take a supplement but rather to make sure that we’re still finding meaningful ways to connect with other people,” Soteros said.
Last year’s winner, Dr. Ben Rein, will use his Mind Science-funded research grant to study how early experiences shape the social development of our brains, at Stanford University.
“We know how social isolation impacts the brain, but we haven’t researched the role social interaction plays in how the brain controls social function,” Rein said. “The award will enable me to explore this research question that I think is incredibly important.”
Oilman and philanthropist Tom Slick founded Mind Science in 1958 as a nonprofit organization dedicated to funding scientific research and education that explores what Slick called the “vast potential of the human mind.”
“The more we can support early-career neuroscientists, the greater our impact,” said Mind Science President/CEO, Meriam Good. “It’s more important than ever to invest in the young scientists exploring the frontiers of human consciousness.”
Platinum sponsors of 2022 BrainStorm are Drs. Alice and Sergio Viroslav. To learn more about Mind Science or to make a donation, click here. To cast your vote for the BrainStorm Neuroscience Pitch Competition, click here.