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1.8 million euros awarded to Champalimaud Foundation researcher to develop pioneering imaging techniques

Noam Shemesh, principal investigator of the Champalimaud Foundation, was awarded with a Starting Grant, by the European Research Council, to establish cutting edge magnetic resonance imaging methodologies that will provide novel insights onto neural function during health and disease.

  1. 29.10.2015

    Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) is a powerful tool for studying various neuroscience and biomedical questions. Current fMRI methods work by detecting changes in blood volume and oxygenation level that accompany neural activity. These changes, however, occur over a timescale of seconds, while neural activity occurs within a fraction of a single second. This difference in timescale points out an obvious limitation of current fMRI techniques – they are too slow to resolve many important processes in the brain.

    Noam Shemesh, principal investigator at Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown in Lisbon, has been developing novel techniques that harness the power of MRI to study direct measurements of neural activity. “The difference between classical fMRI techniques and the methods I am working on is two fold. These new methods aim to measure neural activity directly, and not through surrogate processes like blood flow, and as such, they can also potentially detect activation dynamics on a much faster timescale”, says Dr. Shemesh.

    One of the methods Dr. Shemesh began developing during his postdoctoral work in Israel, measures changes in the volume of neurons. “It is known that when neurons become active, they swell just a little bit. During my postdoctoral studies in Prof. Lucio Frydman's Lab in the Weizmann Institute of Science, we developed a technique tailored to measuring such subtle changes in neuronal structure. Now, my Lab will develop and apply the technique in fMRI mode, so that these changes can be measured in awake behaving animals.”

    Another method Dr. Shemesh developed previously and now intends to implement towards neuroscience research, has the capability of measuring the release of neurotransmitters, another direct measure of neural activity. “The activity of neurons results in the release of neurotransmitters. These small molecules have many functions, including the activation, or the inhibition, of other neurons. Using advanced, ultrahigh magnetic field MRI techniques, I believe we will be able to measure the naturally-occurring dynamics of these neurotransmitters, which will provide us with an unprecedented view onto the inner-workings of neural circuits”, explains Dr. Shemesh.

    Dr. Shemesh plans to use these methods to address one of the greatest questions we are currently faced with – how does the brain generate behaviour? “Our ultimate goal is to establish links between behaviour and its underlying global neural circuits.”

    These methods will be implemented at the state-of-the-art imaging facilities of Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown. “The Centre has recently acquired cutting-edge ultrahigh field MRI scanners that have established it as one of the most advanced preclinical imaging institutions worldwide. We are looking forward to witnessing unique views into living systems, enabled by unprecedented structural and temporal resolutions the new scanners provide and the novel methodologies we will develop”, concludes Dr. Shemesh.

    Dr. Noam Shemesh – Brief Bio

    Noam received his BSc in 2006 from the School of Chemistry, Tel Aviv University, Israel, where he continued to a direct track PhD. During his PhD, Noam harnessed advanced Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) methodologies to investigate micro-architectures of highly heterogeneous and complex systems, with special emphasis on the elusive–yet equally paramount–characterizations of the brain’s gray matter. For this work, Noam received the Young Investigator Award from the International Society of Magnetic Resonance in Medicine, and was subsequently elected a Junior Fellow of the Society. Following the completion of his thesis in 2011, Noam joined Prof. Lucio Frydman’s group at the Chemical Physics Department in the Weizmann Institute of Science as a post-doctoral fellow, where he worked on ultrahigh field MR Spectroscopy of brain metabolites and on the development of novel ultrasensitive MRI techniques aimed at resolving cellular size distributions in the brain. In 2014, after a brief EMBO Fellowship in the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL), Noam moved to the Champalimaud Neuroscience Programme in Lisbon, Portugal, to establish his own Lab, which focuses on investigating longitudinal modulations in global brain function, their underlying microstructural origins, and their correlation with ensuing behaviors in both normal and diseased CNS via advanced MRI coupled with optognetics and optical microscopy. In 2015 he was awarded the Marie Sklodowska Curie Individual Fellowship for promoting these studies.

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