BU Engineering Dean’s Catalyst Award for Wearable fNIRS and EEG Study of Complex Scene Analysis

Three Neurophotonics Faculty have been awarded the 2020 Dean’s Catalyst Award to initiate a new collaboration that will utilize wearable fNIRS and EEG to investigate complex scene analysis (CSA) in humans. This collaboration is bringing together BU BME Faculty Kamal Sen, Laura Lewis and David Boas. Sen is currently investigating cortical circuits underlying CSA in animal models. This proposal will extend this framework to investigate CSA in humans, using wearable fNIRS and EEG technology already being advanced and utilized by Boas and Lewis.

Abstract (from the proposal)

The human brain is an astonishingly powerful computational device, capable of feats yet to be matched by machines. One impressive example is the brain’s ability to selectively attend to specific objects in a complex scene with multiple objects. For example, at a crowded cocktail party, we can look at a friend and hear what they are saying in the midst of other speakers, music and background noise. Such multisensory filtering allows us to select and process important objects in a complex scene.

In stark contrast, hundreds of millions of humans worldwide with a variety of impairments and disorders, e.g., ADHD, autism, and hearing impairment, find such complex scenes confusing, overwhelming and debilitating. Such humans often withdraw from social situations and feel socially and psychologically isolated, leading to severe hardships in life. Understanding how the normal brain solves Complex Scene Analysis (CSA), will lead to a breakthrough in improving the quality of life of such humans.

The integrative multisensory nature of CSA suggests that coordination between diffierent areas of the cerebral cortex is key to solving this problem. However, little remains known about the specific brain areas and the temporal dynamics of brain activity underlying CSA, presenting a critical barrier to developing better treatments for humans that struggle with CSA. The goal of this proposal is to launch a new collaboration between Kamal Sen, David Boas and Laura Lewis to overcome this critical barrier. Sen is currently investigating cortical circuits underlying CSA in animal models, funded by two recent awards from the BRAIN Initiative from NSF and NIH. This proposal will extend this framework to investigate CSA in humans, using wearable fNIRS and EEG, in collaboration with Boas and Lewis.