Institute for Translational Neuroscience


The Institute for Translational Neuroscience's greatest strength is bringing together different groups under one common goal: to advance neuroscience research at the University of Minnesota.

The Institute for Translational Neuroscience (ITN) was established in 2007 as a University-wide presidential initiative to promote the transfer of discoveries in the basic neurosciences to clinical practice. The institute is charged to enhance basic science discovery with new knowledge leading to subsequent clinical trials and establishment of new therapeutic principles or tools.

Research Spotlight

University of Minnesota's Center for Magnetic Resonance Research is awarded two White House BRAIN Initiative Grants

White House Brain Initiative, Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative NeurotechnologiesNew grants through President Obama’s BRAIN Initiative will allow University of Minnesota researchers to dive deeper into the brain, developing new imaging technology with the potential to map and study neural activity to much greater detail. The two 5-year RO1 grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), totaling $9.4 million, aim to advance functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) technology. MRI measures the structure of the brain, while fMRI allows researchers to also image neural activity by detecting changes in blood flow within the brain. The Center for Magnetic Resonance Research (CMRR) at Department of Radiology will lead the research, with collaborations across the Medical School, College of Liberal Art, College of Science&Engineering. and with investigators from the Medical University of South Caroline (MUSC).

“Although fMRI has become the most popular neuroimaging tool for studying human brain function, there are still important questions about how well fMRI can ‘see’ inside the brain and what types of underlying neural interactions can be mapped by fMRI.” said Wei Chen, Ph.D., professor at CMRR and Principle Investigator (PI) of one of the grants.

“We’re excited to get started,”  said Kamil Ugurbil, Ph.D., director of CMRR and ITN Steering Committee member. “These studies will significantly advance our capabilities for imaging the activity in the human brain, which will improve our ability to diagnose, study, and understand various brain conditions.”

Ugurbil will co-lead the second grant with Cheryl Olman, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Psychology.

Chen’s team will:

  • Develop a new, MRI-compatible, non-metallic high-density electrode array, which can be used to simultaneously stimulate the brain while imaging;
  • The electrode could also lead to MRI-compatible deep brain stimulation (DBS), which has been impossible up to this point because the stimulation devices contain metal;
  • Image areas of the brain with fine spatial scale not yet mapped, including the ‘columnar’ and ‘laminar’ levels

“The high-resolution fMRI uses very high magnetic field scanners at CMRR, allowing us to not only see everywhere in the brain but also able to zoom into the brain at very high resolution,” Chen said.

Ugurbil and Olman’s team will utilize fMRI and two-photon optical imaging:

  • Explore the relationship between blood flow and neural activity to detect changes in brain activity;
  • Study brain activity at a single-neuron level and link it to fMRI signals;
  • Provide much greater specificity to scientists’ knowledge of imaging brain function;

“Utilizing CMRR’s world-leading human scanners, as well as similar machines operating at different magnetic field strengths , we will test our hypotheses in model systems,” said Olman. “Once validated, this model will be an important new link between human fMRI and optical imaging studies.”

Findings from both projects could broaden the impact of human brain imaging, leading to potential discoveries related to neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, diabetes and stroke.

Investigators involved:
Co-investigators on Dr. Chen’s team include: Ugurbil, CMRR; Xiao-Hong Zhu, Ph.D., associate professor in CMRR; Rajesh Rajamani, Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering;  Zhi Yang, Ph.D., Assistant Professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering; and Esther Krook-Magnuson, Ph.D., Assistant Professor in the Department of Neuroscience; and Mark Thomas, Ph.D., Associate Professor in the Department of Neuroscience.

Principal investigators in the other team are Drs. Ugurbil CMRR, and Olman, Department of Psychology, University of Minnesota; Prakash Kara, Ph.D., Associate Professor, MUSC; and Thomas Naselaris, Ph.D., Assistant Professor MUSC, and Co-Investigators Drs. Chen, CMRR;Xiao-Hong Zhu, CMRR; and Essa Yacoub, Ph.D., Professor in CMRR


Our main goal is to attract and recruit top scientists to shape discoveries that will lead to tomorrow's cures. The institute exemplifies how different disciplines, departments, and centers can work together in partnership to evolve neurological disease research at the University of Minnesota. We have built a community that encourages learning, education, innovation, and discovery all of which are more successful in a team oriented environment. 


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