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Interdisciplinary Initiatives Program Seed Grant: Deciphering neural ensemble dynamics of human speech, from basic science to restoring communication

Seed Grants
Awarded in 2020

Interdisciplinary Initiatives Program Round 10 - 2020

Shaul Druckmann, Neurobiology and Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences
Jaimie Henderson, Neurosurgery
Krishna Shenoy, Electrical Engineering

Communication is a central part of being human. The loss of the ability to communicate can be a severe consequence of neurological disorders like brainstem strokes or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). This loss has profound effects on quality of life and brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) that can restore communication would be transformative for these patients. Moreover, human speech is extremely understudied and interesting from a basic science standpoint. It involves complex cognitive and motor processes, the translation of one agent’s mental state into an intricate sequence of actions (speaking) or symbols (writing/typing) that are meant to influence another agent’s internal state. Therefore, studying how networks of nerve cells generate this complex behavior tests our fundamental understanding of neural computations. For these reasons, and many more, the study of the neural representation of speech is a crucial endeavor from the clinical and basic science perspective. We propose to conduct the first ever single-neuron resolution population recordings in speech areas from clinical trial participants while preparing and attempting to speak (or actually speaking) and to conduct computational analyses that will provide entirely new insights into this uniquely human ability.