Ghuman Receives Prestigious NIMH Award

Avniel GhumanPittsburgh, October 1, 2015 -- Avniel Singh Ghuman, PhD, assistant professor of neurological surgery at the University of Pittsburgh and director of magnetoencephalography (MEG) research at UPMC’s Brain Mapping Center, has been awarded the prestigious 2015 Biobehavioral Research Awards for Innovative New Scientists (BRAINS) by the National Institute of Mental Health for his project “Inside the Social Perception Network: Dynamics, Connectivity, and Stimulation.”

The $2.5 million, five-year, R01 award will fund Dr. Ghuman’s research in using magnetoencephalography and invasive recordings in humans undergoing neurosurgical evaluation for epilepsy in collaboration with R. Mark Richardson, MD, PhD, director of Adult Epilepsy and Movement Disorders Surgery, to understand the millsecond-by-millisecond dynamics of how visual information with social and emotional relevance is processed in the brain. The research project hopes to understand how the network of regions involved in social and affective perception interact with one another during cognition. Researchers will also use direct brain stimulation to the regions of that network to better understand how perturbing the network alters social and affective perception.

According to the NIH website, the BRAINS award “is intended to support the research and research career development of outstanding, exceptionally productive scientists who are in the early, formative stages of their careers and who plan to make a long term career commitment to research in specific mission areas of the NIMH.  This award seeks to assist these individuals in launching an innovative clinical, translational, basic or services research program that holds the potential to profoundly transform the understanding, diagnosis, treatment, or prevention of mental disorders.”

Dr. Ghuman’s research interest focuses on the neural basis of high level visual processing to help answer the question of how our brain turns input from our eyes into a meaningful perceptual experience. Specifically, he examines the spatiotemporal dynamics of how neural activity reflects the stages of information processing and information flow through brain networks responsible for visual perception. His research is particularly focused on the dynamic neural representation of faces, bodies, and other social and affective visual images.

In addition, as director of MEG research, one of Dr. Ghuman’s primary roles is to facilitate, develop, and advance clinical and basic neuroscience research using MEG. To this end, he is helping to develop new research applications for MEG in collaboration with researchers throughout the community.

UPMC’s MEG unit, the Neuromag®, is a state-of-the-art neuromagnetic recording system capable of non-invasively recording magnetic fields produced by neuronal activity occurring within the brain. This observed data is called the magnetoencephalogram (MEG) and is analogous to the electroencephalogram (EEG) but represents the magnetic fields produced by ion flow associated with neuronal activity rather than the electric potentials measured in the EEG.

In addition to Dr. Ghuman receiving the 2015 BRAINS award, Susan B. Perlman, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh, also received a 2015 BRAINS award. This is only the third time that two individuals from the same institution have received a BRAINS award in the same year.