UCI research team members will manage brain sample acquisition, processing and characterization as part of the BRAIN Initiative Cell Atlas Network project. They are (from left) Ed Monuki, Elizabeth Head, William Yong, Xiangmin Xu, Craig Stark, Hannah Lui Park and Robert Edwards, along with Mari Perez-Rosendahl (not pictured). Steve Zylius / UCI

Irvine, Calif., Sept. 22, 2022 – The University of California, Irvine will participate in a five-year, multi-institutional, $126 million grant from the National Institutes of Health supporting the BRAIN Initiative Cell Atlas Network. The project aims to describe the cells that make up the human brain in unprecedented molecular detail, classifying them into more precise subtypes and pinpointing their location.

As a full member of BICAN, UCI will receive $10 million to collect, process and characterize a broad range of adult brain specimens. An interdisciplinary UCI team, led by Xiangmin Xu, Ph.D., Chancellor’s Fellow of anatomy & neurobiology and director of the Center for Neural Circuit Mapping, will collaborate with scientists from the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, UC San Diego and Washington University in St. Louis.

“We are pleased to participate in this very large-scale mapping project to identify individual brain cells’ molecular features, location and how they change over time,” said Xu, UCI principal investigator. “This precise description will advance our understanding of how individual cells and complex neural networks interact in both space and time, leading to new ways to treat and prevent disorders such as Alzheimer’s, autism, depression and traumatic brain injury. It will also create a new foundational network for analyzing health and disease structure and function.”

This is the latest in a series of large BRAIN Initiative projects coordinated by Xu and will leverage the Center for Neural Circuit Mapping’s strong infrastructure and extensive expertise. The team will partner with the Department of Pathology & Laboratory Medicine’s Experimental Tissue Resource and the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at UCI to obtain racially diverse samples from donors between 18 and 60 years old. These will be used for single-cell multiomics studies to gain a more comprehensive understanding of molecular changes contributing to normal development, cellular response and disease in human aging.

“The brain map we develop could help point disease researchers in the right direction,” said project contact and principal investigator Joseph Ecker, professor and director of the Genomic Analysis Laboratory at the Salk Institute and Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator. “Ultimately, this information might help us design gene therapies that target only the cell populations where treatment is needed – delivering the right genes to the right place at the right time.”

Other PIs are Margarita Behrens, research professor at the Salk Institute; Bing Ren, professor of cellular and molecular medicine at UC San Diego; and Ting Wang, professor of medicine at Washington University in St. Louis.

The UCI team also includes Elizabeth Head, professor and vice chair for research in the Department of Pathology & Laboratory Medicine and member of the Center for Neural Circuit Mapping; Ed Monuki, professor and chair of pathology; William Yong, professor of clinical pathology; Robert Edwards, professor of clinical pathology; Mari Perez-Rosendahl, assistant professor of clinical pathology; Craig Stark, professor of neurobiology and behavior; and Hannah Lui Park, associate professor of pathology.

This research is supported by the NIH’s National Institute of Mental Health under award number UM1MH130994.

About UCI’s Brilliant Future campaign: Publicly launched on Oct. 4, 2019, the Brilliant Future campaign aims to raise awareness and support for UCI. By engaging 75,000 alumni and garnering $2 billion in philanthropic investment, UCI seeks to reach new heights of excellence in student success, health and wellness, research and more. The School of Medicine plays a vital role in the success of the campaign. Learn more by visiting https://brilliantfuture.uci.edu/uci-school-of-medicine.

About the University of California, Irvine: Founded in 1965, UCI is a member of the prestigious Association of American Universities and is ranked among the nation’s top 10 public universities by U.S. News & World Report. The campus has produced five Nobel laureates and is known for its academic achievement, premier research, innovation and anteater mascot. Led by Chancellor Howard Gillman, UCI has more than 36,000 students and offers 224 degree programs. It’s located in one of the world’s safest and most economically vibrant communities and is Orange County’s second-largest employer, contributing $7 billion annually to the local economy and $8 billion statewide. For more on UCI, visit www.uci.edu.

About the NIH BRAIN Initiative: The Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies® (BRAIN) Initiative is aimed at revolutionizing our understanding of the human brain. By accelerating the development and application of innovative technologies, researchers will be able to produce a revolutionary new dynamic picture of the brain that, for the first time, shows how individual cells and complex neural circuits interact in both time and space. Long desired by researchers seeking new ways to treat, cure and even prevent brain disorders, this picture will fill major gaps in our current knowledge and provide unprecedented opportunities for exploring exactly how the brain enables the human body to record, process, utilize, store and retrieve vast quantities of information, all at the speed of thought. For more information, visit https://www.braininitiative.nih.gov.

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