Try to capture the beauty in a picture, and you’ll get a snapshot in time, but you’ll miss the motion, the constant activity, the energy. The same holds true for the human brain - a boundaryless, uncharted territory where different kinds of waves drive our every thought, emotion, and behavior. The brain is constantly changing and learning, developing from before birth through our twilight years. And just like the ocean forming our western border, a picture doesn’t do it justice. To understand the brain, we need to understand the changing brain and its relationship to behavior throughout the entire life course, from every stage of development to the environmental, social and biological factors that help or hurt its progress.

Nestled just five miles from the Pacific Ocean in a remarkably diverse community, UC Irvine - with its new world-class Facility for Imaging and Brain Research (FIBRE) - is home to some of the biggest mavericks in neuroscience, whose stories you’ll learn more about within. And we’re seeking support for a central hub under which their work will take shape, a place where these top educators, engineers, scientists, doctors and physicists can work together to build and experiment with new technologies to solve the biggest issues surrounding the human brain and behavior. The proposed Institute for Brain Research Across Generations (BRAG Institute) will truly be something to brag about as it provides the structure for UCI’s bold new vision to transform neuroscience research, deepen the understanding of the dynamic relationship between brain and behavior, and develop new treatments for brain disorders and cognitive decline.

Help us make waves. 





Cluster 1:

From prenatal factors impacting a newborn’s health, to the way children learn to speak and count and the curriculum developed to hone these skills early on, UCI has some of the foremost experts in early development, language, and education.

Like Dr. Tallie Baram, Distinguished Professor of pediatrics, anatomy/neurobiology, neurology, and physiology/biophysics. Her wave-making research is shedding light on what happens during childhood that shapes the brain for life. She’s exploring how patterns and rhythms of maternal signals before and after birth may influence an infant’s vulnerability to cognitive and emotional problems during adolescence.

And Judith Kroll, Distinguished Professor of language science who uses EEG-measured brain activity to show the unique way bilinguals juggle the presence of two languages in one mind and brain.

And Dr. Claudia Buss, an assistant pediatrics professor who’s leveraging FIBRE to collect brain and body composition imaging data on children 4-6 years old. The study’s primary focus is to gain a greater understanding of how the fetal environment influences future brain development and body composition outcomes.

And Susanne Jaeggi, an associate professor of education and cognitive sciences whose research finds working-memory training may improve children’s math or reading skills or their fluid intelligence and ability to reason in novel situations.

And Greg Hickok, a cognitive scientist who has spent three decades studying the networks of the brain related to speech and language, humanity’s communication lifeline to the social world, learning, technology, and culture. Using FIBRE, he’s mapping the brain’s networks that enable the translation between thought and speech, and what happens when that process is interrupted.

And countless others. By bringing these world-class researchers together under the BRAG Institute, with establishment of a graduate program in audiology and speech pathology, and with FIBRE as their state-of-the-art toolbox, UCI’s experts on early development, language, and education are set to change the way we understand brain development in children and create novel ways for improving the way we care for, educate, and train our youth for successful lives. 



Cluster 2:

We know that maintaining a healthy body requires a balance of exercise and diet. And just like the body, the brain requires exercise and smart eats to stay nimble and thrive.

Just ask Craig Stark, a neurobiology and behavior professor and UCI’s expert on the topic. He’s found that playing 3D video games can improve performance on hippocampal memory tasks. His research team is now using FIBRE to explore the neural effects of playing different types of video games and even an outdoor scavenger hunt by measuring brain volume and activity before and after a four-week game-play intervention. These data may prove the old adage “use it or lose it” by showing that learning a new, challenging task may improve brain function and cognitive performance.

And what happens when things don’t go as planned? Brain injury and disorders affect people across the life course.

One example: Postpartum depression. PPD affects one in seven women and is the most under-diagnosed obstetric complication in the U.S. However, the etiology of this disorder is poorly understood, in part because almost nothing is known about the sensitive period of neuroplasticity experienced by the human female during pregnancy and the postpartum. Andre Obenaus, UCI pediatrics professor, is probing endocrine systems and neural circuits to provide critical insights into the underlying mood and emotion regulation systems perturbed in PPD.

Under the auspices of the BRAG Institute, researchers in this cluster will focus on research and strategies for maintaining a healthy brain while diving fully into research that can help mitigate consequences of brain injuries and disorders. 





Cluster 3:

What’s the key to living to age 90 and beyond? And what happens when brain disease and memory decline manifest? Very little is known about what happens to our brains in advanced old age – the 90+ population. Enter Claudia Kawas, professor of neurology and neurobiology and behavior. She’s leading one of the world’s largest studies of the oldest of old – nonagenarians. Already, her team has found that those who drank alcohol or coffee lived longer than those who didn’t. And people who were overweight in their 70s lived longer than normal or underweight people did.

UCI is also home to the Institute for Memory Impairments and Neurological Disorders (UCI MIND), an internationally recognized center known for its research accomplishments in age-related brain disorders. For more than 30 years, UCI MIND has served at the forefront of aging and dementia research. Faculty at UCI MIND will work with the BRAG Institute cluster on the aging brain to understand the causes leading to neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s disease, frontotemporal dementia, Lewy body dementia, and Huntington’s disease, and use this knowledge to improve diagnosis and treatment of these deadly diseases. UCI MIND is also the site of Orange County’s only Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center (ADRC), a center of excellence designated by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The UCI ADRC translates research findings into improved diagnosis, treatment, and care for people living with Mild Cognitive Impairment, Alzheimer’s disease, and related disorders, and is working to ultimately discover means to prevent and cure these conditions.

UCI researchers, through FIBRE, UCI MIND, and the ADRC on campus, are now exploring cutting-edge MRI techniques tied closely to underlying neurobiology to identify brain changes that are most predictive of early Alzheimer’s disease for new diagnostic techniques that could be implemented simply and reliably in clinical practice for diagnosis and treatment.

Under the aging brain cluster, these mold breaking researchers will come together to examine what happens as the brain ages and how we might better understand, treat and prevent memory decline due to disease. 




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structure & need breakdown
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Top faculty from schools across campus will work side by side to explore fundamental questions about the human brain and develop, as well as test, novel therapeutics that may one day halt or reverse brain diseases. The impact will extend well beyond neuroimaging and functioning of the brain into other areas, including early-life brain development, innovations in teaching and learning, and cancer and cardiac imaging.

The proposed BRAG Institute will be divided into three clusters, each focusing on a key lifestage at which brain research impacts educational, societal, and well-being outcomes. A consistent focus on diversity will intersect each cluster, and a director will oversee all research activity and help connect areas where synergies exist.


Director and Institute Naming Opportunity
Need: $10m for named chair to direct BRAG; $25m for naming rights
Cluster 1:
Early Development, Language and Education
Need: $3m for named chair; $2m for research and graduate and postdoctoral fellowships
From a life course perspective and with the brain as the central focus, this cluster will focus on early developmental stages of the brain, language, education and well-being. A proposed graduate program in audiology and speech pathology - the only such UC-level program - will anchor the institute as the program training the next generation of scientists and pathologists working with children to better understand and improve language processing in the brain.

Cluster 2:
Maintaining Pathways for Cognitive Performance
Need: $3m for named chair; $2m for research and graduate and postdoctoral fellowships
Injury and sustainable, trainable memory highlight the research focus of this cluster which will rely heavily on the use of imaging to understand how behaviors - environmental, economic, social and health - and injury impact brain performance.
Cluster 3:
The Aging Brain
Need: $3m for named chair; $2m for research and graduate and postdoctoral fellowships
Understanding the changing brain in an aging population will require a consistent focus on the oldest of old - nonagenarians, the 90+ for which UC Irvine has the longest running study. This cluster’s research will focus on pathways to successful aging and disease and cognitive decline - Alzheimer’s, dementia - that impede the natural process.

brillian future





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