UNC neuroscientist part of first class of industry research grant winners

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To support the NIH BRAIN Initiative, Garret Stuber, PhD, will use a new kind of microscope to further his lab’s investigation of brain circuits related to obesity.

This past week at the Society of Neurosciences annual meeting, UNC School of Medicine researcher Garret Stuber, PhD, was one of 13 top neuroscientists to receive a grant as part of the new DECODE program (Deciphering Circuit Basis of Disease), which was inaugurated this summer by Inscopix, Inc. to support the Presidential BRAIN Initiative.

Stuber, an assistant professor of psychiatry and cell biology & physiology, is the fifth UNC researcher to be granted research dollars this year to support the BRAIN Initiative. Earlier this fall, Bryan L. Roth, MD, PhD; Thomas Kash, PhD; Jin Jian, PhD; and Spencer Smith, PhD, received grants to support the NIH Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative.

Stuber, who is also a member of the UNC Neuroscience Center, received $5,000 for lab expenses and a new $75,000 Inscopix miniature nVista imaging system that is not yet commercially available but has been released to a limited number of labs. The miniature microscope can help scientists visualize neural circuits over time in free-moving mice.

“We will use the microscope to image the activity of hundreds to thousands of genetically defined neurons as animals transition from normal to obese,” Stuber said. “We have reason to believe that certain brain cell types, which are important for motivation, will show dramatic changes in their activity patterns.”

Documenting the changes to neural circuits involved in such motivation will give researchers more evidence of the underlying genetic causes of obesity, binge eating, and anorexia nervosa, as well as other conditions, including addiction.

Tom Insel, MD, director of the National Institutes of Mental Health, said during the Inscopix announcement, “What is the language of the brain and how do we begin to decode that? This is probably the challenge of the century. It’s fantastically exciting that Inscopix has decided to crowdsource this challenge by providing the equipment to get started to the best and brightest scientists.”

In Stuber’s previous work, published in Science, his team used a technique called optogenetics to identify the cellular connections from one part of the brain to another that trigger overeating.

Earlier this fall, Stuber was awarded a Hettleman Prize from UNC, and last year he was awarded the Freedman Prize for Exceptional Basic Science Research by the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation.

The UNC School of Medicine recently profiled Stuber.

Media contact: Mark Derewicz, 919-923-0959, [email protected]

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