Neuroscientists frequently say that neural activity ‘represents’ certain phenomena, PIK Professor Konrad Kording and postdoc Ben Baker led a study that took a philosophical approach to tease out what the term means.
One of neuroscience’s greatest challenges is to bridge the gaps between the external environment, the brain’s internal electrical activity, and the abstract workings of behavior and cognition. Many neuroscientists rely on the word “representation” to connect these phenomena: A burst of neural activity in the visual cortex may represent the face of a friend or neurons in the brain’s memory centers may represent a childhood memory.
But with the many complex relationships between mind, brain, and environment, it’s not always clear what neuroscientists mean when they say neural activity “represents” something. Lack of clarity around this concept can lead to miscommunication, flawed conclusions, and unnecessary disagreements.
To tackle this issue, an interdisciplinary paper takes a philosophical approach to delineating the many aspects of the word “representation” in neuroscience. The work, published in Trends in Cognitive Sciences, comes from the lab of Konrad Kording, a Penn Integrates Knowledge University Professor and senior author on the study whose research lies at the intersection of neuroscience and machine learning.
Spencer Haws, Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the laboratory of Jennifer E. Phillips-Cremins, Associate Professor and Dean’s Faculty Fellow in Bioengineering and in Genetics, was awarded a 2022 Druckenmiller Fellowship from the New York Stem Cell Foundation Research Institute (NYSCF). This prestigious program is the largest dedicated stem cell fellowship program in the world and was developed to train and support young scientists working on groundbreaking research in the field of stem cell research. Haws is one of only five inductees into the 2022 class of fellows.
Haws earned his Ph.D. in Nutritional Sciences in 2021 from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he studied metabolism-chromatin connections under the mentorship of John Denu, Professor in Biomolecular Chemistry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. As a NYSCF – Druckenmiller Fellow in the Cremins Laboratory for Genome Architecture and Spatial Neurobiology, Haws is using this previously developed expertise to frame his investigations into the underlying mechanisms driving the neurodegenerative disorder fragile X syndrome (FXS). “Ultimately, I hope that this work will help guide the development of future FXS-specific therapeutics of which none currently exist,” says Haws.
Save the date for the first Penn Bioengineering seminar of the fall 2021 semester! This year’s seminars will be hybrids, held virtually on zoom and live on campus!
Speaker: Michael Lin, Ph.D.
Neurobiology, Bioengineering, and by courtesy Chemical and Systems Biology
Stanford Medicine, Stanford University
Date: Thursday, September 2, 2021
Time: 3:30-4:30 PM EDT
Zoom – check email for link or contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Location: Moore Room 216, 200 S. 33rd Street
Abstract: The most effective medicines are those that target the earliest causes of disease, rather than later manifestations. Engineering of biomolecules is a promising but underexplored approach to precisely detecting or targeting disease causes. I will present our work to develop a novel approach to treating cancer by detecting the signaling abnormalities that give rise to cancer. Interestingly, this effort involves biomolecular engineering at multiple scales: proteins, pathways, and viruses. I will also discuss how our work has translated serenditously to developing treatments for SARSCoV2.
Michael Lin Bio: Michael Z. Lin received an A.B. summa cum laude in Biochemistry from Harvard, an M.D. from UCLA, and a Ph.D. from Harvard Medical School. After training in biochemistry and neurobiology as a PhD student with Michael Greenberg at Harvard Medical School, Dr. Lin performed postdoctoral research in fluorescent protein engineering with Chemistry Nobel Laureate Roger Y. Tsien at UCSD. Dr. Lin is a recipient of a Burroughs Wellcome Career Award for Medical Scientists, a Rita Allen Scholar Award, a Damon Runyon-Rachleff Innovation Award, and a NIH Pioneer Award.
Parkes will use the BBRF’s support to continue his research examining the link between the symptoms of mental illness and the brain. In particular, he seeks to uncover how individual patterns of abnormal neurodevelopment link to, and predict, the emergence of psychosis symptoms through childhood and adolescence using longitudinal data. In turn, Parkes’ work will discover prognostic biomarkers for the psychosis spectrum that will help inform clinical outcome tracking.
“I am honored to have been selected for a Young Investigator Grant from the BBRF this year,” Parkes says. “This award will support me to conduct research that I believe will make real inroads into understanding the pathways that link abnormalities in neurodevelopment to the symptoms of psychosis. I feel grateful for the opportunity to complete my postdoctoral training at Penn. Penn has connected me with wonderful people who I’m sure will be lifelong mentors, colleagues, and peers.”
The BBRF Young Investigator Grants are valued at more than $10.3 million and are awarded annually to 150 of the world’s most promising young scientists to support the work of early career investigators with innovative ideas for groundbreaking neurobiological research seeking to identify causes, improve treatments, and develop prevention strategies for psychiatric disorders.
Read more about the BBRF 2020 Young Investigators here.