New $3.1M NIH Grant to Explore Relationship Between Anxiety and Memory

Columbia Engineering collaborates with Columbia Neurosurgery to study the framework of brain-behavior interactions

April 11, 2024


The National Institutes of Health (NIH) BRAIN Initiative recently awarded Columbia University Biomedical Engineer Josh Jacobs, PhD and Neurosurgeon Brett Youngerman, MD, a new award for $3.1 million over 3 years with potential to expand to over $5 million over 5 years. According to the NIH website, “The BRAIN Initiative® is a partnership between federal and non-federal partners with a common goal of accelerating the development of innovative neurotechnologies. Through the application and dissemination of these scientific advancements, researchers can produce a revolutionary new dynamic picture of the brain that, for the first time, shows how individual cells and complex neural circuits interact in both time and space.”

Project Overview

To that end, this new project builds the CAMERA (Context-Aware Multimodal Ecological Research and Assessment) platform, which will fuse diverse data signals from a range of unobtrusive sensors to predict transient internal states and levels of cognitive function continuously. For this particular study, the team will focus on the relationship between anxiety and memory, which has shown inconsistent results due to the narrow and subjective states of anxiety. This project will identify new features of human neural activity, physiology, behavior, and environment related to memory and anxiety and test whether we can use multimodal data to identify and modulate anxiety and memory performance states more accurately. CAMERA will also open a pathway toward using multimodal data and machine learning for naturalistic research and translational studies related to other complex human internal states and behaviors.

This new platform will use multimodal, passive sensor data to predict anxiety-memory state in patients undergoing direct brain recordings for clinical epilepsy. The goal is to create a general base platform to accurately estimate a person’s anxiety-memory states and to understand their neural basis.

Engineering and Neurosurgery’s Intersection

Biomedical engineer Dr. Jacobs, who primarily examines the neural basis of human spatial navigation and memory through direct brain recordings from epilepsy patients, has been working in this field for twenty years. Says Dr. Jacobs of this development, “This exciting project is a key step in broadening the impact of neuroscience, by showing how brain signals relate to a much broader range of behavioral and psychiatric factors than ever before..”

The project’s pilot data showed that both anxiety and memory have similar neural biomarkers. If the first phase of the project is successful, CAMERA will use closed-loop stimulation to causally probe the neural, physiological, and behavioral mechanisms of the anxiety–memory states and test the involvement of a large-scale rhythm in their generation. Closed-loop stimulation requires devices such as CAMERA that can sense neural activity, conduct on-board computations of the biomarker, and control stimulation in real-time.  

Dr. Brett Youngerman who focuses on therapeutic neuromodulation for epilepsy, movement disorders, and other conditions, stated, “This study will help us to understand the relationship between the brain and behavior related to anxiety and memory. Our work has the potential to lead to new approaches and targets for therapeutic neurostimulation for epilepsy, anxiety, and memory disorders.”

The work will be done in collaboration with Jorge Ortiz, PhD in Electrical and Computer Engineering at Rutgers University, Alik Widge, MD, PhD in Psychiatry at the University of Minnesota, and colleagues at Columbia University including Catherine Schevon, MD, PhD and Marla Hamberger, PhD, Department of Neurology, and Randy Aurbach, PhD and Paul Appelbaum, MD, Department of Psychiatry. 

This grant will provide researchers with the resources needed to make an incredible impact on the world of neuroscience and to improve the quality of life for those facing anxiety.