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PhD Studentships in Neuroscience, Engineering or Biophysics Imaging fast electrical activity in the brain with Electrical Impedance Tomography

PhD Studentships in Neuroscience, Engineering or Biophysics

Imaging fast electrical activity in the brain with Electrical Impedance Tomography

Supervisor: Professor David Holder (Medical Physics and Bioengineering, UCL and Clinical Neurophysiology, UCH)

Over the past two decades, there have been huge advances in the ability to image brain function. Techniques like functional MRI and Positron Emission Tomography have enabled imaging of changes in blood flow and metabolic changes but these are only over tens of seconds as they are secondary to brain activity. The “holy grail” is to image fast electrical activity over milliseconds, as this is the way the brain codes and transmits information. This has become possible for small volumes of brain up to 2 mm deep using 2-photon calcium imaging but there is currently no method to achieve this throughout the whole human or mammalian brain.

This studentship is to work on a new imaging method which can achieve this, Electrical Impedance Tomography (EIT). It can image small changes in electrical impedance which occur as ion channels open during activity in the brain. Tomographic images of the electrical properties of a subject are produced with a box of electronics about the size of a DVD player, and arrays of electrodes placed on the brain or scalp. Small, insensible, electrical signals are applied to the electrodes and sophisticated mathematical methods translate these into images with a PC in real time.  It is portable, inexpensive, safe, and rapid. 

Recently, our group has achieved a breakthrough by producing the first ever EIT images during normal activity in physiological studies with an array of electrodes on the brain during sensory or visual repeated stimulation.  With this, activity throughout the cerebral cortex was visualised with a resolution of 1 msec and 200 µm, which is currently not possible with any other method. The next steps are to apply this to human subjects and to image deeper activity in the brain in experimental animals. If successful, this will be used to produce the first ever tomographic images of fast neural activity during simple and complex cognitive evoked activity, as well as epileptic seizures.  This will be a major advance in neuroscience technology. It will enable a much deeper understanding of how the brain works, as it will enable quantitative mathematical analysis of the fast electrical activity in pathways in the brain.  This could lead to radical improvements in understanding and treatment of disorders like schizophrenia, depression and epilepsy, as well as normal cognitive function.

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This studentship is for a researcher to work on physiological and human studies. The student will work in a multidisciplinary team comprising a physiologist, engineer and mathematician. The project will be to design and conduct further imaging studies during normal activity and epilepsy in experimental animals and, if time permits, human subjects. Students with backgrounds in neuroscience, physiology, medicine or biophysics will be paired with an engineer and be responsible for the physiological aspects of the work.  Students with an engineering background will be paired with a life scientist and be responsible for developing instrumentation, electrodes, signal processing and image analysis. The work will take place in the Department of Medical Physics at UCL, which is in an attractive part of central London, close to the museum, theatre and shopping districts. It will be for 3 or 4 years.

Applications for funded positions have now closed but projects for students with their own funding are still available.

Interested applicants should send a c.v. and covering letter to  Prof. David Holder, Medical Physics (d.holder@ucl.ac.uk)  who will also be happy to handle any informal enquiries. Further information on the research is available at : http://www.ucl.ac.uk/medphys/research/eit .