Creating Biomedical Technologies to Improve Health

Pettigrew and fellow NIH directors provide highlights of NIH-funded neuroscience research

Attendance at the 46th annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience swelled to 30,000 at the height of the five-day meeting this past November at the San Diego Convention Center.

NIH Directors panel

Roderic Pettigrew participates in a panel of NIH Directors who took questions from science reporters at the Society for Neuroscience meeting. From left, Michael Steinmetz, Director of the National Eye Institute Division of Extramural Research Programs; David Shurtleff, Ph.D., Deputy Director, National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health; Pettigrew; George F. Koob, Ph.D., Director, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism; Nora Volkow, M.D., Director, National Institute on Drug Abuse; and Joshua A. Gordon, M.D., Ph.D., Director, National Institute of Mental Health.


Nine institutes of the National Institutes of Health participated in the meeting, including a contingent from the National Institute for Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB) led by Director Roderic I. Pettigrew, Ph.D., M.D.  Pettigrew greeted current NIBIB grantees and prospective applicants, and presenting highlights of NIBIB-funded research at a media briefing.

”A number of the presentations at this meeting illustrate a growing understanding of how neurological systems are constructed and work, as well as the application of that knowledge to improve on a practical level the health and wellbeing of patients,” Pettigrew said in remarks to reporters at the meeting. He pointed to continuation of the recent gains in clinical research involving spinal stimulation to help people with spinal cord injury. He also noted the functional magnetic resonance imaging advances that have helped establish neurological biomarkers for schizophrenia.

NIBIB team with grantee Ranu Jung

NIBIB grantee with NIBIB team, from left, Michael Wolfson, Ph.D., Director of the NIBIB program in Implantable and Assistive Medical Devices; Andres Pena, Ph.D. student in the Jung lab at Florida State University; Ranu Jung, Ph.D., Director of the Adaptive Neural Systems Laboratory, Florida International University; Grace Peng, Ph.D., Director of the NIBIB program in Computational Modeling, Simulation and Analysis; and NIBIB Director Roderic Pettigrew, Ph.D., M.D.

Among the trans-NIH programs garnering attention at the meeting were the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies® (BRAIN) initiative that has created research and discovery opportunities within the neuroscience community. NIBIB participates in the BRAIN initiative which has issued three rounds of grant funding since its announcement by President Obama in 2013. BRAIN researchers delivered short presentations during an evening session, including a project led by West Virginia University’s Julie Brefczynski-Lewis to develop the AM-PET, a wearable low-dose positron emission tomography or PET imaging helmet that allows freedom of movement while scanning. 

Julie and Dr. Pettigrew

Roderic Pettigrew shares a light moment with AM-PET developer Julie Brefczynski-Lewis. Her helmet-and-tin-can prototype is not up to the task for the actual mobile imaging device she is testing in her West Virginia University lab.

Other research presentations included posters from NIBIB grantees supported by the NIH Stimulating Peripheral Activity to Relieve Conditions or SPARC program. Launched two years ago, SPARC aims to improve the mechanisms through which therapies can stimulate the nervous system to affect organ function.

The gathering of such a large number of scientists also provided NIBIB staff with the opportunity to respond to inquiries about the novel NIBIB funding mechanism called the Trailblazer Award for New and Early Stage Investigators. Announced this past August, the opportunity is open to early-stage researchers who have not had previous NIH funding. Next year’s meeting of the Society for Neuroscience will be held in Washington, D.C.