Exploring Frontiers: The Future of Brain Health Research

Join us for our next Exploring Frontiers session, where we will ask key thought leaders to envision where the field could and should be in the next 5-25 years, and advances that will transform our understanding of brain health as we know it.

Current Allen Distinguished Investigators, AHA-Allen Initiative team scientists and Hongkui Zeng, director of the Allen Institute for Brain Science, will present their pioneering research efforts on topics ranging from neuroimmunology to astrocytes to cognitive impairment. The symposium will conclude with a fireside chat on the future frontiers in brain health research featuring Hongkui Zeng and John Ngai, director of the NIH BRAIN Initiative, moderated by Kathy Richmond, director of The Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group.

WEDNESDAY, 10/7/2020
9:00am-12:15pm Pacific Time

This symposium will be held virtually via Zoom webinar. Registered attendees will be sent the link to join in advance of the meeting.


Event Recording

Event Overview (All Times Pacific)

Wednesday, October 7:

8:50-9:00am - Virtual meeting log-in
9:00-9:10am - Kathy Richmond, The Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group
9:10-9:30am - Marion Buckwalter, Stanford School of Medicine, "Vascular health and cognition"
9:30-9:50am - Mukesh Jain, University Hospitals and Case Western Reserve University, "Blood vessels and brain health"
9:50-10:10am - Rusty Gage, Salk Institute for Biological Studies, "Future Directions for Science: Somatic Mosaicism"
10:10-10:30am - Chenghua Gu, Harvard Medical School, "Our brain’s control of its own energy and environment"
10:30-10:45am - Break
10:45-11:05am - Baljit Khakh, University of California, Los Angeles, "Context-specific and exploitable astrocytes"
11:05-11:25am - Hongkui Zeng, Allen Institute for Brain Science, "Understanding Brain Cell Type Diversity"
11:25am-12:10pm - Fireside chat with John Ngai, director of the NIH BRAIN Initiative, and Hongkui Zeng
12:10-12:15pm - Closing Remarks

View Talk Descriptions




Marion Buckwalter, M.D., Ph.D.

Stanford School of Medicine

"Vascular health and cognition"

Cardiovascular risk factors, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes, are strong predictors of cognitive decline in later life. Together with age, they lead to stiffening and blockages of blood vessels and alter immune responses. Dr. Buckwalter will discuss what we know and what we need to learn about how these interact to cause brain dysfunction and dementia. She will also discuss approaches that may lead to preventative treatments, and point to breakthroughs yet to come in brain health.

View Bio

Rusty Gage, Ph.D.

Salk Institute for Biological Studies

"Future Directions for Science: Somatic Mosaicism"

Unrepaired mutational events occur in the brain during early development, as well as throughout life, resulting in Somatic Mosaicism. Current genome sequencing technology struggle to sample enough cells with deep enough coverage at an affordable cost to capture an accurate representation of an individual's genomic complexity. In addition to this unknown mosaicism within an individual, we know little of how or to what extent age, gender, or ethnicity drive this individual diversity. In the future we will need rapid, inexpensive, high-resolution methods and instrumentation to determine how somatic mosaicism provides a unique background on which diseases of the brain are manifest.

View Bio

Chenghua Gu, Ph.D.

Harvard Medical School

"Our brain’s control of its own energy and environment"

Neurons in the brain are extremely sensitive to their extracellular chemical environment and highly metabolic.  Despite representing only 2% of the body weight, our brain consumes 20% of our body’s energy at rest and has limited ability to store energy.  To meet these unique challenges, our brain controls its own energy and environment by interacting with their vasculature. The blood-brain barrier provides a protected and homeostatic brain environment. The dynamic regulation of blood flow meets moment-to-moment changes in regional brain energy demand. Understanding of brain’s energy and environment control is critical for promoting optimal brain function and treating brain disorders. The future of brain health will include key advances both in the understanding of neuro-vascular communication and the technology needed to interrogate this environment.

View Bio

Mukesh Jain, M.D.

University Hospitals and Case Western Reserve University

"Blood Vessels and Brain Health"

The brain is the greatest consumer of oxygen and nutrients in the body. This continuous energetic demand is satiated by small blood vessels that are anatomically and functionally coupled to brain cells in organizational structure termed the neurovascular unit. Accumulating evidence suggests that dysfunction of blood vessels and/or blood cells that they carry can lead to deterioration of the neurovascular unit and consequently brain health. Understanding the key molecular determinants that control proper function of blood vessels and cells, and how they are altered in disease, will provide the foundation for therapies to ameliorate age-related brain disorders. Key areas for investigation in the short term and possible new areas that will emerge in the long term will be put forth.

View bio

Baljit Khakh, Ph.D.

University of California, Los Angeles

"Context-specific and exploitable astrocytes"

Astrocytes tile the central nervous system and are widely implicated in brain diseases, but the molecular mechanisms by which astrocytes contribute to brain disorders remain incompletely explored. By performing astrocyte gene expression analyses following multiple experimental perturbations, we discovered that astrocytes are malleable, utilising context-specific responses that can be dissected molecularly and exploited for phenotypic benefit in brain disorders. We will touch on current emerging areas that hold great potential, and speculate as to long term advances possible from a systems and multicellular understanding of the brain.

view bio

Hongkui Zeng, Ph.D.

Allen Institute for Brain Science

"Understanding Brain Cell Type Diversity"

To understand the function of the brain and how its dysfunction leads to brain diseases, it is essential to have a deep understanding of the cell type composition of the brain and the roles these cell types play in brain circuits. At the Allen Institute, we have taken a systematic approach to characterize the transcriptomic, physiological, morphological, and connectional properties of brain cell types, towards a multi-modal cell atlas for the mouse and human brains. These studies reveal extraordinary cellular diversity and a series of rules underlying brain organization, and lay the foundation for unraveling mechanisms of circuit function in the short term, and allow in the long term the possible broad capability to go from genotype to phenotype and revolutionize brain health.

View bio

John Ngai, Ph.D.

NIH BRAIN Initiative

"Frontiers in Brain Health Fireside Chat"

The closing session of the Frontiers in Brain Health seminar is a fireside chat on the future frontiers in brain health research featuring Hongkui Zeng and John Ngai, director of the NIH BRAIN Initiative, moderated by Kathy Richmond, director of The Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group. Rooted in the explosive progress made in neuroscience in the last ten years, the conversation will be far ranging and explore the potential yet to come.

Biography: John J. Ngai, Ph.D., is the Director of the NIH’s Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN®) Initiative, where he oversees the long-term strategy and day-to-day operations of this ground-breaking enterprise. Dr. Ngai earned his bachelor’s degree in chemistry and biology from Pomona College, Claremont, California, and Ph.D. in biology from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena. He was a postdoctoral researcher at Caltech and at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons before starting his faculty position at the University of California at Berkeley. During more than 25 years as a UC Berkeley faculty member, Dr. Ngai has trained 20 undergraduate students, 24 graduate students and 15 postdoctoral fellows in addition to teaching well over 1,000 students in the classroom. His work has led to the publication of more than 70 scientific articles in some of the field’s most prestigious journals and 10 U.S. and international patents. Dr. Ngai has received many awards including from the Sloan Foundation, Pew Charitable Trusts, and McKnight Endowment Fund for Neuroscience. As a faculty member, Dr. Ngai has served as the director of Berkeley’s Neuroscience Graduate Program and Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute. He has also provided extensive service on NIH study sections, councils and steering groups, including as previous co-chair of the NIH BRAIN® Initiative Cell Census Consortium Steering Group.