The human brain is an exquisitely complex organ, consisting of nearly one hundred billion neurons, an equivalent number of non-neuronal cells and trillions of synapses. Understanding the factors that play a role in the development of the structure and function of the brain is an essential step to developing therapies for neurological diseases such as schizophrenia, addiction, seizure disorders, and Alzheimer’s disease. Recent years have seen a shift from studying individual molecules and cells to integrating genomic, transcriptomic and cellular insights to understand the brain and its function at the level of neural circuits. This has necessitated the development of new resources in tools and techniques from cellular and proteomic atlases to cutting-edge methods such as deep brain stimulation and neuroimaging paradigms. In this GEN Protocols’ Expert Exchange, John Ngai, PhD, Director of the NIH ’s Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative, talks about tools and technologies that are being developed through the BRAIN initiative and his vision on how these will help promote research in neuroscience that will bolster the development of new therapeutics for neurological disorders.
Dr. Ngai earned his PhD in biology from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena and conducted postdoctoral research at Caltech and at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons before starting his faculty position at the University of California at Berkeley. In addition to over 70 publications in the field’s most prestigious journals and 10 US and international patents, Dr. Ngai has taught and mentored students for over 25 years as a Berkeley faculty member, and received many awards including the Sloan Foundation, and McKnight Endowment Fund for Neuroscience. He has also served on NIH study sections, councils and steering groups, and as previous co-chair of the NIH BRAIN Initiative Cell Census Consortium Steering Group. Currently Dr. Ngai oversees the long-term strategy and day-to-day operations of the NIH BRAIN Initiative.