NEURO MEETUPS
2021

Past Events

1/ 03.02.21

Brain on the move

Joaquin Álvaro Penalver-Andres

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PhD Student

ARTORG Center Bern

Solaiman Shokur

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Senior Scientist

EPFL

Talk 1: Electroencephalographic biomarkers of attention observed among healthy participants performing a motor task.

(
Joaquin Álvaro Penalver-Andres, University of Bern)
 

Motor learning is a complex cognitive and motor process. Especially during early phases of training, cognitive processes such as attention are important to discover task-relevant stimuli. By providing explicit information about task rules, attention may be drawn towards task-relevant stimuli, supporting motor learning. In this talk, we will see how enforcing task rules using explicit verbal task instructions or visual cues modulates attentional brain networks engaged during motor learning and results in motor performance improvements.

Joaquín Peñalver de Andrés is a PhD student with the Motor Learning and Neurorehabilitation Laboratory of the ARTORG Center for Biomedical Engineering Research at the University of Bern. His PhD project aims to find electroencephalographic biomarkers reflecting cognitive functions during motor learning. Joaquin received his BSc and MSc in Control and Electronic Engineering from the University of Vigo (Spain) and TU München (Germany) in 2013 and his MSc in Biomedical Engineering from the TU Delft (Netherlands) and ETH Zürich (Switzerland) in 2018.


Talk 2: Clinical application of a bidirectional Brain-machine interface

(Solaiman Shokur, EPFL)

 

Dr. Solaiman Shokur is a Senior Scientist at the Bertarelli Foundation Chair in Translational Neuroengineering in Geneva. Previous work of Solaiman Shokur included the development virtual reality-based brain-machine interface for rhesus monkeys and closed-loop brain-machine interfaces that integrated both motor and tactile functions.  From 2015 to 2019, he was the research coordinator at the Alberto Santos Dumont Association for Research Support in Sao Paulo Brazil, where he was in charge of the development of neurorehabilitation tools for patients with spinal cord injury. He also coordinated a long-term training protocol (28 months) integrating non-invasive brain-machine interfaces with visuotactile feedback and locomotion, which demonstrated unprecedented levels of neurological recovery in patients with most severe cases of spinal cord injury. His work was nominated for Brain-computer interfaces award 2019. 

Dr. Shokur has obtained his PhD with distinctions at the EPFL in 2013 under the supervision of Prof. Miguel Nicolelis and Hannes Bleuler, on development of the first virtual-reality training system for non-human primates. From 2010 to 2012 he was a visiting scientist at Duke University.

In 2014 he was chosen to represent the Walk Again Project (WAP) for the opening ceremony of the World Cup, where an SCI patient trained by Dr Shokur and the WAP team used a lower-limb exoskeleton for a symbolic first shoot.

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2/ 03.03.21

Presentation of the Animal Welfare Office of the University of Bern

Isabelle Desbaillets

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Animal Welfare Officer

University of Bern

Homare Yamahachi

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Deputy 3Rs Coordinator

University of Bern

Talk 1: Presentation of the Animal Welfare Office of the University of Bern

(
Isabelle Desbaillets, University of Bern)


Talk 2: Do you actually understand the 3Rs Principles? Let’s discuss the practical implementations.

(Homare Yamahachi, University of Bern)

Homare Yamahachi finished his Biology degree at the University of Buenos Aires in Argentina before obtaining his PhD in the Gilbert lab at The Rockefeller University, USA. During his doctoral studies, Homare discovered that changes in sensory experience alter neuronal structural plasticity in vivo using viral vectors and two-photon microscopy. During his postdoc in the Moser lab in Norway, he studied how the brain computes space to navigate the world. Homare then studied social communication in birds with an emphasis on animal welfare in the Hahnloser lab at UZH and ETHZ. Currently, Homare is involved in coordinating the 3Rs Principles of Animal Experimentation at the University of Bern and serves on the Swiss 3R Competence Centre’s Executive Board. Besides his involvement in the 3Rs, Homare also works in the Sendoel Lab, UZH.

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3/ 07.04.21

Neuroscience and Creativity

Nicole Göbel

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Inselspital Bern

Magdalena Camenzind

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Inselspital Bern

Talk 1: Creativity after stroke

(
Nicole Göbel, Inselspital Bern)

Creativity is a complex neuro-psycho-philosophical phenomenon. It is a multifaceted cognitive process rather than a specific cognition that requires different skills (cognitive and social) and can lead to new and useful ideas in various fields (e.g. arts, crafts, science).

However, it is unclear how creativity evolves after focal brain lesions. Brain injury is usually associated with a deterioration of cognitive functions. Nevertheless, it has been pointed out that positive changes such as phenomena associated with plasticity could be overlooked. The paradoxical facilitation approach, for example, states that a lesion in one brain region can lead to a reversal of inhibition to linked areas or to a compensatory functional enhancement of the ipsilesional site. This could result in a contra-intuitive improvement of the functions of the affected area.

To date, there is only a limited number of single-case studies, which have found that patients can become more creative after a focal brain lesion. However, it is virtually impossible to measure creativity as a non-confounded factor. Individual differences in brain damage and the associated symptoms have to be taken into account.

With the planned long-term study, patients are repeatedly measured over a one-year period post stroke. Insights could be gained into how acute brain injuries influence creativity. A creativity test battery will be used to investigate the development of patients' creative output over time. With extensive testing neurological and neuropsychological deficits will be identified.

The following research questions are to be clarified: 1) The role of the lesion side, whereby noticeable differences in creativity is expected, especially when the right hemisphere is affected; 2) Development of creativity over time, which will indicate the mechanisms behind it; 3) Whether creativity is a question of paradoxical facilitation or of plasticity and repair processes; 4) Furthermore, lesion symptom mapping will be carried out in order to correlate places of focal lesions with creative performance.

This research is relevant and useful, as creativity contributes greatly to patients' life satisfaction and their management of everyday life.

Since this study is still ongoing, we will give you an introduction to the field and present you some intermediary results.


Talk 2: Aiming for more objectivity in creativity assessment – Applying word vectors on creativity data

(
Magdalena Camenzind, Inselspital Bern)

Introduction: Divergent thinking (DT), as a compound of creativity, refers to an ability to produce multiple ideas to a given topic or various solutions to a given problem. A possible means to measure DT is the Associative Fluency Task (AFT) where participants are instructed to tell everything that comes to their minds once presented with a prompt word. The output of such DT tasks is typically assessed by the number of produced ideas (i.e., fluency), their frequency-based originality (i.e., originality) as well as their semantic proximity (i.e., flexibility). Whereas there are objective means to assess fluency and originality, flexibility is often subjectively rated, which is not only costly and labor intensive, but also influenced by inter-individual variations in the perception of semantic distances.

Aim: Therefore, the development of an objective, quantitative and sensitive measure of semantic distances and consequently of the flexibility of given answers is the aim of this project.

Methods: The semantic distances between words were quantified by applying word vectors of the German language that were trained on a large text corpus. The word vectors were adapted for the purpose of creativity assessment by building a more diverse text corpus for the training and by taking homonyms, synonyms, and compound words into account to circumvent context ambiguities.

Discussion/Outlook: The generated word vectors were applied on data from the AFT of 50 healthy subjects and flexibility was determined which shall be compared to human ratings and ratings extracted from GermaNet, a semantic network for the German language. First preliminary results indicate that the flexibility performances as assessed by the word vectors is more sensitive and importantly not confounded by the frequency of given answers. Overall, the developed measure has a great potential to objectively assess the output of DT tasks.

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4/ 05.05.21

Diversity in Neuroscience

Vera Rosar

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Project Manager of Women's Brain Project

Srikanth Ramaswamy

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ALBA ambassador

Image: Parekh, Ruchi, and Giorgio A. Ascoli. "Neuronal morphology goes digital: a research hub for cellular and system neuroscience." Neuron 77.6 (2013): 1017-1038.

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5/ 02.06.21

How to navigate in an uncertain world ?

Anna Kutschireiter

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Jan Drugowitsch’s lab

Harvard University

Melanie Basnak

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Rachel Wilson’s lab

Harvard University

Talk 1: The fly’s internal compass - a Bayesian perspective


(Anna Kutschireiter, Harvard University)

Successfully navigating the world requires animals to keep track of their orientation by an ‘internal compass’. Some animals’ behavior suggests that they additionally track uncertainties in their orientation, and make strategic use of these uncertainties to adapt their behavior. The strategic use of uncertainties in both computation and behavior is a hallmark of dynamic Bayesian inference, but how such inference is implemented in the brain remains unknown. Here, we propose a recurrent neural network model that suggests such an implementation. It represents its heading direction estimation together with the estimate’s uncertainty as a bump of neural activity in a ring-structured network, with a topology that matches the Drosophila connectome. This thus demonstrates that the Drosophila HD system could in principle implement Bayesian HD tracking.


Talk 2: Uncertainty representation and uncertainty-driven learning in the fly’s navigation system


(Melanie Basnak, Harvard University)

Uncertainty is an inherent component of neural computation: it is present at every stage, from sensory perception to motor control. There is evidence to suggest that different animals, from insects to humans, make use of uncertainty to shape their behavioral choices. However, there is little evidence on how this might occur at a neural level. Here, we make use of the genetic and connectivity tools in the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster to study this problem. We are performing calcium imaging experiments to track the activity of a subset of neurons, which are known to track the fly’s heading direction in a compass-like manner. The flies are walking on an air-supported ball, surrounded by an LED arena where we can present visual stimuli that are coupled or uncoupled to the animal’s movements. The experiments we have conducted so far suggest that varying the reliability of the visual cues changes the cue representation in the compass neurons, and that this may affect visual learning in the system.

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