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Research

From improving brain health, performance, and resilience to advancing the care of brain disorders, the Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute is bringing the same level of success and rapid advances that have occurred in areas such as heart disease and cancer to brain and spine health. The Institute is also developing partnerships and accelerating innovative technologies, treatments, and protocols.

Through a new vision and strategic thrust for neuroscience at WVU, and through basic, applied, and tranlational/clinical research, the Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute is a global leader in the discovery, development, and delivery of world-class research in human performance and brain health.

Over the next year, the Institute, along with its worldwide academic, government, and corporate partners, will unveil its groundbreaking programs and initiatives and will establish a continuum of functionality across diverse populations, including athletics, the military, and patients (AMP). The Institute’s leadership will also work closely with other WVU departments, such as engineering and computer science, to develop new medical technologies and collaborate with other medical specialties, such as cardiology.

The Rockefeller Neuroscience includes the clinical, research, and academic missions of Neurosurgery, Neurology, Neuroscience, and Behavioral Medicine and Psychiatry, as well as several other academic departments across the broader university. The Institute will spearhead efforts to develop innovative solutions for West Virginians and those across the world with neurological and psychiatric conditions ranging from Alzheimer’s to Parkinson’s; autism to stroke; and paralysis to chronic pain, addiction, and traumatic brain injury. Applied research themes include:

Human Performance Research seeks to maximize human performance through accelerated recovery, reduced injury, optimized readiness, and holistic wellness. We research new ways to help people achieve a higher level of physical performance and to help them recover faster, workout more efficiently, and get cognitively, physically, and emotionally stronger. Human performance research centers on how the brain controls the body, so we are assessing brain performance at a global level as it controls almost all of our biological systems. We seek to better understand the mechanics of how those biological systems work and how the brain interacts with those systems.

As part of our research, we are looking at a variety of recovery modalities that can help speed recovery, such as photo bio-modulation, float tanks, and transcranial magnetic stimulation. We also examine people along a continuum of functionality and do so for athletes, military members, and patients. A special focus is placed on maximizing the performance of warriors of the Special Operations Component Commands of the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, and Air Force of the United States Armed Forces. Specific examples include Navy Seals and Army Special Forces (Green Berets).

Neuromodulation uses customized augmentation for optimal performance and recovery. Our specific research areas include TMS (transcranial magnetic stimulation), tDCS (transcranial direct stimulation – a non-invasive technique that has garnered the renewed interest of researchers as a possible treatment for neurological disorders), photobiomodulation, float, and sleep. We provide advanced care for patients using the latest technology to alter and, in some cases, improve the function of the human nervous system. This is called neuromodulation. This surgery is often done in a minimally or non-invasive manner and can have dramatic results.

Virtual Reality is a technology that will transform medicine, and the Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute is already a leader in using immersive virtual reality to visualize 3D tissue structures. This powerful tool allows doctors and researchers to understand how these complex structures within the human body are related spatially to other tissue structures. These visual insights, and the data and analytics that they lay over them, can inform and inspire new thinking for novel medical treatments. For example, a neuron has lots of branches, and virtual reality can enable doctors and researchers to better understand its complex structure, one that we can quantify and map more easily using both powerful visualization and analytical tools.

Circadian Rhythm and Sleep is an area of research that promises to draw a bright line between our internal clocks – set over thousands and thousands of years – and our new reality that is increasingly disrupting those clocks. The 24/7 lifestyle that many people have is coming at a high cost in terms of health and wellness. The body’s many temporal disruptions – a television in the bedroom or an iPad a person reads in bed at night – can have a lasting impact on your health. So, too, can working a third-shift. Our bodies long-ago internalized the solar day, and, as a result, they run on about a 24-hour clock. That clock, however, maintains and regulates virtually every process in the body, from metabolism to our immune system. If your internal clock is thrown off, so are these processes. Understanding the intricate details of our internal clocks will enable us to create effective countermeasures, thus helping improve human performance through repairing disrupted circadian rhythm and sleep and restoring the balance many people now do not have.

Analytics at the Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute means the fusion of physiological, neurological, and performance data into novel analytics, modeling, and visualization tools. We want to leverage these data in ways that will better inform our thinking about certain diseases and how best we can target them. By fusing all three data sets, we create a very powerful tool with which we can arm doctors and researchers.

Brain-Computer Interface and Neurophysiology will allow us to restore a patient’s functionality. Imagine the moment when a paralyzed patient can one day walk again because of a brain-computer interface. We are already well on our way, as rapid advances in neural engineering have enabled us to decode brain signals and match them to specific movements. This “bypass approach” shows much promise, and the Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute will be a leader in developing and refining the technologies that make such a moment possible.

Dr. Ali Rezai, executive chair of the West Virginia University Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute, lays out his bold, new vision for the neurosciences at WVU. Joining Dr. Rezai are WVU President Dr. Gorden Gee, Albert Wright, president and chief executive officer of the West Virginia University Health System, and Clay Marsh, MD, vice president and executive dean for Health Science at WVU.

Human Performance Research seeks to maximize human performance through accelerated recovery, reduced injury, optimized readiness, and holistic wellness. Here, Scott Galster, PhD, director of human performance, discusses the ways we help people achieve a higher level of physical performance and help them recover faster, workout more efficiently, and get cognitively, physically, and emotionally stronger.

Neurosurgeons treat their patients through the use of a delicate, targeted procedure; the best neurosurgeons are skilled at several. WVU Medicine neurosurgeon Robert A. Marsh, MD, PhD, says his best approach is unique to each patient, and considers wishes as well as needs.

WVU Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute