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At BrainModes 2017 neuroscientists explore the interface of math and medicine

Anagh Pathak

Participants at BrainModes 2017
Participants at BrainModes 2017  

This year National Brain Research Centre, Manesar hosted the 10th anniversary of Neuroscience annual meeting called BrainModes from 11th-14th December 2017. BrainModes is a yearly meeting that brings together leading computational and experimental neuroscientists from around the world to discuss cutting-edge neuroscience methods, theories, and applications aimed at understanding complex brain signals. The inaugural BrainModes 2007 was held in Berlin and this is the first time it was hosted in India. The host for this year’s BrainModes was Cognitive Brain Dynamics Lab at National Brain Research Centre.

The conference has a distinct mathematical flavour. It addresses questions related to the understanding of mental diseases through a mathematical prism. This amalgam of math and medicine make BrainModes unique in the calendar of yearly Neuroscience meetings.

Recent years have seen an explosion in the number of techniques that let scientists observe brain dynamics at high spatial and temporal resolutions. Chief among these myriad of techniques are high density EEG, MEG and fMRI. With these multimodal tools in their arsenal, scientists can now address a multitude of questions concerning brain dynamics at an unprecedented detail.  However, the technological sophistication of these devices and the inherent complexity of the brain, often makes it hard to analyse the data being churned out by them. With that in mind, the meeting was preceded by a two-day pre-conference workshop that covered topics on data analysis, numerical techniques, experimental designs and theoretical frameworks. The workshop was targeted at graduate students, postdocs and early researchers and saw participation from leading labs in India and abroad.

The focus of this year’s meeting was to understand spatiotemporal network mechanisms and models in health and disease. A major talking point within this framework is ‘brain oscillations’. Talks focused on understanding different kinds of oscillations and how they may be involved in perceptual decision-making, multimodal perception and how perception changes in brain pathologies like schizophrenia & epilepsy. Another thrust area for this year’s meeting was on modelling neuro-imaging data using tools borrowed from physics and mathematics, such as nonlinear dynamics and Bayesian probability theory.

 Karl Friston, from the Wellcome Trust Neuroimaging Centre spoke about one such framework called ‘Dynamic Causal Modelling’ that uses mathematical tools to approximate individual brain areas to be able to model neuroimaging data generated in EEG and fMRI. Viktor Jirsa of CNRS, France and Petra Ritter of Bernstein Centre for Computational Neuroscience, Berlin spoke about another such modelling effort called the virtual brain that aims to model brain dynamics by decreasing simulation complexity.  Stanislas Dehaene of INSERM, France spoke about his work on brain mechanisms involved in the understanding of syntax in language and mathematics. 

The proceedings also included a parallel poster session that saw participation from a number of labs from India and abroad. The talks were followed by two panel discussions. One, on the structural and functional connectivity in neuro-imaging and the other on neuro-imaging in brain development.

The meeting ended with a neuroscience-themed dance performance by Swati Mohan titled ‘Dance of Mirror Neurons’. The meeting also gave the participants an opportunity to interact in an informal setting through a ‘neuroscience social’. 

The following edition 2018 BrainModes will be hosted in Barcelona, Spain in 2018 by Professor Gustavo Deco from the Center for Brain and Cognition, Universitat Pompeau Fabra, Spain.

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