Lewis Awarded Sloan Fellowship

The award funding will further the biomedical engineer’s research on brain function

By Jessica Colarossi

Laura Lewis (BME) has been awarded a 2021 Sloan Research Fellowship, one of the most prestigious awards for early-career scientists. Lewis and BU computer scientist Alina Ene are two of 126 fellows chosen this year, and each will receive a two-year, $75,000 fellowship to advance their research. Science writer Jessica Colarossi talked with Lewis to find out what she hopes to accomplish with the support of the award.


What aspect of sleep are you studying?

My research focuses on why we sleep, both identifying the brain circuits that control sleep, and understanding the consequences of sleep for brain health. The brain is enveloped in a liquid called cerebrospinal fluid, which cushions it and clears away waste. Our research recently discovered that during sleep, large waves of cerebrospinal fluid flow through the brain. These findings may help explain why sleep is important for maintaining healthy brain function and removing waste products.

We also work on developing brain imaging methods and analysis techniques that let us get a better window into what happens in the brain during sleep. This is because the data obtained from brain imaging is quite complex and high-dimensional, so developing new analysis approaches is essential for us to interpret these data.

Why did you choose to pursue a career in brain research?

As an undergrad [at McGill University], I became fascinated by neuroscience when I took a course about patients who had very distinctive cognitive symptoms linked to brain injuries in specific, known locations, and also patients for whom the neural origins of their symptoms were unknown. I was also taking machine learning courses at the time and became very interested in how [machine learning might be used to] extract more information about how the brain supports incredibly complex cognitive processes. I now focus primarily on sleep and arousal states because they are so fundamental to brain function and awareness, and yet there are still many unanswered questions about how these states affect brain function.

How will the Sloan Fellowship help you advance your work?

The Sloan Fellowship will allow us to pursue some exciting new studies on deep brain circuits that control our sleep patterns. Running these studies will require integrating multiple new brain imaging technologies, so the project is a bit unusual and technically challenging, and we’re extremely grateful for the fellowship support to pursue this work.

A version of this story was originally published on The Brink.