Blog - 7 of the Most Exciting Neuroscience Discoveries of 2021 (2023)

Year on year, the pace of neuroscience discoveries is both exciting and relentless. From lab grown mini-brains, to artificial intelligence uncovering evolutionary secrets of the human brain, enjoy these 7 of the most amazing breakthroughs of 2021.

Treating Severe Depression with Adaptive Deep Brain Stimulation

A research team at the University of California San Francisco have successfully developed a method using deep brain stimulation (DBS) to adaptively treat depressive symptoms only when they appear. Deep brain stimulation involves implanting electrodes within the brain to deliver electrical currents to alter brain activity.

Previous studies have had limited success for treating depression with DBS because devices could only deliver constant electrical stimulation in one area of the brain. However depression can affect various areas of the brain, and the neural signatures of depression can rise and fall unpredictably.

With the aim of essentially creating a pacemaker for the brain, the scientists decoded a new neural biomarker. This specific pattern of brain activity effectively predicts the onset of symptoms. With this knowledge the team customized a new DBS technology that only activates when and where it recognizes that pattern.

The type of automatic on-demand therapy is impressive because it's functional responses are unique to both the patient’s brain and the neural circuit causing the illness. In it’s first trial, this custom DBS method was tested with a patient suffering from severe depression and passed with flying colors. Almost immediately, the patient’s symptoms were alleviated, and this continued to be the case long term.

In the COVID era, where anxiety and mental health problems are becoming rife, this approach could prove an invaluable drug-free therapy for hundreds of millions of people.

Beyond Human Hearing

Similar to light waves, humans can only perceive a relatively small spectrum of the sound waves that travel around us. Typically we can only pick up on frequencies between 20 Hz and 20,000 Hz, beyond this is considered ultrasonic. This is the frequency range that animals like bats operate in, and also what is put to use in ultra sound medical scans.

(Video) 2021's Breakthroughs in Neuroscience and Other Biology

A new method utilizing sophisticated technology has been pioneered by scientists at Aalto University, and has led to a device that basically gives humans bat-level hearing. This includes not only the ability to hear frequencies well beyond 20,000 Hz, but also to discern the direction and distance of the sound sources. For biologists for example, it allows people to track otherwise stealthy bats in flight, and locate their positions.

It works by recording ultrasound via a spherical microphone array, which detects ultrasonic sounds and uses a computer to translate the pitch to audible frequencies. It then plays the converted sound waves through headphones in real-time. Being able to perceive normally inaudible sounds could have valuable industrial applications, for example being able to hear and locate otherwise silent gas leaks.

Blog - 7 of the Most Exciting Neuroscience Discoveries of 2021 (1)

AI Independently Learns to Smell in the Same Way Humans Do

Although neuroscience is a relatively young and fast-growing domain of science, artificial intelligence (AI) is both much newer and growing faster. The potential of combining these two fields of science has been revealed by researchers at MIT.

Using machine learning, they have discovered that artificial neural networks can self-learn how to smell in just a few minutes, actually mimicking the olfactory circuits in mammalian brains. This is profound because the algorithm put to work had no knowledge of the millions of years evolution required to develop smell biologically.

Yet amazingly, the artificial neural network replicated the biological activity of smell so closely that it revealed the brain’s olfactory network is mathematically optimized for its function.

This precise mimicking of the natural structure of circuits in the brain by independent machine learning may herald a new era, whereby AI teaches us the inner secrets of biological evolution. Sense of smell is the starting point in 2021, but who knows where this could lead…

Blog - 7 of the Most Exciting Neuroscience Discoveries of 2021 (2)

Neuroprosthesis Converts Thoughts into Sentences in Severely Paralyzed Patient

Researchers at UC San Francisco developed a new kind of a speech neuroprosthesis for patients with paralyses that prevents them for speaking. The method was demonstrated successfully on a man with a severely damaged brain stem, causing whole body paralysis.

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Somewhat remarkably it works by detecting speech-related brain signals that control the vocal cords. When we speak, the vocal cords require complex motor-function instructions in order to articulate the wide variety of sounds we use when conversing. Even when unable to move, these signals can still get sent from the brain.

Using brain recordings from epilepsy patients, the scientists developed a method for real-time decoding of instructions to vocal muscles, into words. From these neural patterns, they were able to reliably discern 50 different common words whenever the patient was thinking them.

All that was required was for the patient to wear a high-density electrode array to capture and record neural activity, which recorded signals from the speech motor cortex. This allowed up 18 words per minute to be translated with 93% accuracy. The advantage for the patient was that he simply had to act like he was really speaking and he could communicate hundreds of different sentences from the 50 words vocabulary.

Although this breakthrough seems limited to paralyzed patients, we undergo paralysis every night when we dream (unless we sleep walk). If evolved sufficiently, this approach could, for example, pave the way to translating our very thoughts while sleeping!

Human Mini-Brains Developed with Complex Neural Activity

Technically termed ‘brain organoids’, mini-brains can be grown from induced pluripotent stem cells. These stem cells can be taken from a person’s skin or blood, and the the potential to be morph into any type of cells. The benefit is that cell structures normally very difficult to access, can in principle, be grown and isolated for study. This is especially relevant for the brain, however previous mini-brains had limited functional structures.

This year’s breakthrough by scientists at UCLA has catapulted the structural complexity by growing aggregates of organoids to form complex three-dimensional brain structures. The researchers took stem cells from patients with Rett syndrome (a condition with seizures), and were able to grow mini-brains with functional activity similar to parts of human brains. This meant they were able to safely and successfully observe patterns of electrical activity that resemble the onset of seizures.

This research shows for the first time that some aspects of brain function can be isolated and studied in the lab down to the level of individual living cells. The key advantage is that these mini-brains can be grown to replicate aspects of both normal and diseased brain functions, as well as to test drugs and treatments with no risks to human or animals.

The scale of the human brain is enormous, so there are still clear limitations in terms of the complexity of brain structures that can be studied, but clearly this emerging neuroscience domain has sci-fi like potential.

Blog - 7 of the Most Exciting Neuroscience Discoveries of 2021 (3)

(Video) Neuroscience Meets Psychology | Dr. Andrew Huberman | #296

‘Neurograins’ Used to Develop Next-Generation Brain-Computer Interface

With the exponential growth in growth in computing power in recent decades, microchips have been getting increasingly smaller each year. Tech focused neuroscientists at Brown University have now developed a wireless computer so small it can be easily missed by the human eye. Dubbed ‘neurograins’ - because they are about the size of a grain of salt - they were developed to track and monitor brain activity.

These ultra-tiny computers are able to record electrical activity from nearby neurons, and transmit their data wirelessly. The goal was to develop a new type of brain-computer interface (BCI) system, where a network of the mini-sensors can collectively track meaningful aspects of brain activity, and send the information to a nearby hub.

In a proof-of-concept experiment, the researchers deployed a network to successfully record a rodent’s neural activity with much greater accuracy than ever achieved before. This recording of brain signals in unprecedented detail it’s still in it’s early stages, but the technological breakthrough holds much promise for being able to convert brain waves into useful real-world actions without any physical effort.

Blog - 7 of the Most Exciting Neuroscience Discoveries of 2021 (4)

Restoring Functional Vision for Completely Blind People

This year a new type of microelectrode array has been used to create a form of artificial vision via a visual prosthesis. University of Utah scientists at the John A. Moran Eye Center built the device to record and stimulate neuronal activity within the visual cortex.

Implanted within the eye, the array receives visual information through glasses containing a small video camera, with the data processed by specialized software. The device then activates retinal neurons to produce phosphenes, as if they are receiving points of light. In turn allowing basic images of lines and shapes to be percieved by the mind.

Trialed with a completely blind patient, this method proved to be effective, and involved no complications from the surgery or the neuronal stimulation. In this first test, only a single array was used. However, the next goal is to use 7 to 10 arrays to deliver more detailed images that will allow blind people to actually navigate the world visually.

Blog - 7 of the Most Exciting Neuroscience Discoveries of 2021 (5)

New Injectable Molecular Therapy Repairs Severe Spinal Cord Injuries

A new class of ‘dancing molecules’ has been applied by researchers at Northwestern University to repair tissue in severe spinal cord injuries and successfully reverse paralysis. The dancing part involves manipulating the motion of these molecules to that they can wiggle their way into normally impossible to reach cellular receptors, in order to prompt them to get into gear repairing nerve tissues.

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These seemingly magic molecules work by setting-off cascading signals, triggering axons to regenerate and helping neurons to survive after injury by encouraging a variety of new cell types to be born. This is in turn supports the regrowth of lost blood vessels necessary for cellular healing.

Tested in mice, just a single injection of the molecular therapy led to the paralyzed mice being able to walk again in under four weeks. Somewhat conveniently, 12 weeks later (well after recovery is complete), the materials biodegrade into nutrients for the cells without any side effects, effectively disappearing from the body naturally.

Blog - 7 of the Most Exciting Neuroscience Discoveries of 2021 (6)

VR Delivers Therapy to Overcome Fear of Heights

Virtual Reality (VR) has been used by psychophysicists for decades to investigate how we perceive sensory information. This year researchers from the University of Basel, the oldest university in Switzerland, developed a virtual reality application to actually treat height phobias.

Called Easyheights, the smartphone compatible software provides exposure therapy using 360° images of real locations. Wearing a VR headset, users stand on a platform that starts one meter above the ground, and then progressively rises as the users acclimatizes to each stage of height. It works by increasing sensory exposure to height with without increasingly the level of fear.

A clinical trial demonstrated the efficacy of this immersive form of treatment, producing significant reductions in phobia in real height situations. The benefits were experienced with just four hours of home-based training. This discovery shows how combining neuroscience knowledge with today’s technologies, can clinically improve peoples’ quality of life in ways that are easily accessible.

Blog - 7 of the Most Exciting Neuroscience Discoveries of 2021 (7)

FAQs

Who is the top neuroscientist in the world? ›

The top-ranking scientist in neuroscience is Trevor W. Robbins from the University of Cambridge with an h-index of 234.

What is currently the most popular neuroscientific technique? ›

Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI)
  • BOLD fMRI. BOLD fMRI is currently one of the most popular techniques to study neurological diseases and investigate alterations in brain function. ...
  • Molecular fMRI. ...
  • fMRI conclusions.
22 Nov 2016

What is latest discovery in neuroscience? ›

Synchronized Neural Oscillations in the Right Brain Induce Empathic Behavior. Dec. 2, 2022 — A research team has discovered the underlying neural mechanism that allows us to feel empathy. The group's study on mice hinted that empathy is ...

What are the 5 principles of neuroscience? ›

Principles of Neuroscience for Cognitive Development
  • Principle 1: Neuroplasticity. ...
  • Principle 2: Automaticity. ...
  • Principle 3: Integration (cross-training). ...
  • Principle 4: Progressive challenge. ...
  • Principle 5: Frequency and intensity. ...
  • Principle 6: Feedback. ...
  • Principle 7: Engagement.

What neuroscience Cannot answer? ›

In closing, I emphasize that although neuroscience can inform, it will never be able to answer ultimate legal questions of culpability and desert. Such determinations are essentially moral judgments that require understanding behaviors and mental states against the backdrop of cultural norms.

Who is the mother of neuroscience? ›

Brenda Milner
Brenda Milner CC GOQ FRS FRSC
AwardsCompanion of the Order of Canada Karl Spencer Lashley Award (1979) NAS Award in the Neurosciences (2004) Gairdner Award (2005) Balzan Prize in Cognitive Neuroscience (2009) Kavli Prize in Neuroscience (2014)
Scientific career
FieldsNeuropsychology
10 more rows

Who is the father of neuroscience? ›

"The Beautiful Brain" at NYU's Grey Art Gallery features the drawings of the Spanish artist and scientist Santiago Ramón y Cajal (1852–1934). Known as the father modern neuroscience, Cajal is credited with discovering intricate functions of the brain long before the benefits of modern medical imaging.

Is neuroscience the hardest major? ›

Neuroscience is hard because the core courses such as biology, chemistry, and mathematics are challenging. Earning a Ph. D. or MD in Neuroscience also requires students to stay in school so much longer. A graduate degree in Neuroscience, since it is in the medical field, can be hard on the pocket, too.

What is the newest brain scanning technique? ›

Magnetic Resonance imaging (MRI)

The next imaging technique on our list is magnetic resonance imaging or MRI. This imaging method is a painless, non-invasive imaging technology that produces 3D detailed anatomical images of our brain, as well as our body.

What is currently the most popular neuroscientific technique based on number of articles using this technique? ›

Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) and Electroencephalography (EEG) are the most frequently adopted neuroscientific techniques to address marketing questions.

Which brain imaging technique is the latest to be developed? ›

Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) fMRI is one of the most recently developed forms of neuroimaging technique.

What is the newest discovery in 2022? ›

Astronomers report the discovery of HD1, considered to be the earliest and most distant known galaxy yet identified in the observable universe, located only about 330 million years after the Big Bang 13.8 billion years ago, a light-travel distance of 13.5 billion light-years from Earth, and, due to the expansion of the ...

What is the most recent part of the brain to evolve? ›

The neocortex is the most advanced and most evolutionarily young part of the human brain. It is six layers thick and is only present in mammals. It is especially prominent in humans and is the location of most higher level functioning and cognitive ability.

What are the 10 principles of neuroplasticity? ›

Allow me to introduce you to the ten principles of neuroplasticity, the factors identified as especially important in facilitating neuroplasticity in the context of brain injury.
  • Use it or lose it. ...
  • Use it and improve it. ...
  • Specificity. ...
  • Repetition matters. ...
  • Intensity matters. ...
  • Time matters. ...
  • Salience matters. ...
  • Age matters.
23 Oct 2018

What are the biggest questions in neuroscience? ›

First, what is the function (of memory, of vision, of consciousness, of the brain)? Second, what are the algorithms that achieve this function (how can it be described with computational models)? And third, how is this implemented in the brain (how can neurobiologists measure it)?

What are the three main goals of neuroscience? ›

SfN Describes Three Main Goals of Neuroscientists:

Understand and describe the human brain and how it functions normally. Understand and describe how the nervous system develops, matures, and maintains itself through life. Understand neurological and psychiatric disorders, and find ways to prevent or cure them.

Are neuroscientists intelligent? ›

Most neuroscientists have above average to very high IQ's.

Why is neuroscience a threat to free will? ›

Some neuroscientists go so far as to claim that there is simply no such thing as free will. The feeling we sometimes have of freely choosing is just an illusion, a trick of the mind, they say. We might think we are making free choices, but, in fact, the choice has already been made before we become aware of it.

What is the hard problem in neuroscience? ›

The problem of explaining how or why neurophysiological processing gives rise to phenomenal experiences has been dubbed the “hard problem of consciousness” to suggest that solving it requires a paradigm shift in neuroscience (Chalmers, 1995, 1996).

Who is the grandfather of neuroscience? ›

His original investigations of the microscopic structure of the brain made him a pioneer of modern neuroscience.
...
Santiago Ramón y Cajal
Ramón y Cajal in 1899
Born1 May 1852 Petilla de Aragón, Spain
Died17 October 1934 (aged 82) Madrid, Spain
NationalitySpanish
9 more rows

Who was the first neurologist in the world? ›

Jean-Martin Charcot: The Father of Neurology.

Who proved the brain controls the body? ›

Unlike some of his predecessors, Galen concluded that the brain controlled cognition and willed action. The initial evidence for this doctrine was that the brain was the site of termination of all of the five senses: touch, taste, smell, sight, and hearing.

Who is the father of neuroplasticity? ›

The eminent neuroscientist, Dr Michael Merzenich, widely known as “the father of neuroplasticity”, recently shared the $1million Kavli Prize for his contribution to this understanding.

At what age does the brain reach maturity? ›

Brain Maturity Extends Well Beyond Teen Years Under most laws, young people are recognized as adults at age 18. But emerging science about brain development suggests that most people don't reach full maturity until the age 25.

What are the 4 types of nerves? ›

Axons, cord-like groups of fibers in the center of your nerve. Dendrites, branches that carry electrical impulses. Endoneurium, a layer of connective tissue surrounding axons. Perineurium, a layer of connective tissue that surrounds groups of axons called fascicles.

What is the best field in neuroscience? ›

Neurosurgery is easily the best-paid career path in neuroscience. On average, neurosurgeons earn $620,101 per year according to Salary.com.

What are the top 5 hardest majors? ›

20 Hardest Majors: The Ultimate Guide
  1. Chemistry. At number one on the list is chemistry.
  2. Architecture. ...
  3. Chemical Engineering. ...
  4. Computer Science. ...
  5. Aerospace Engineering. ...
  6. Biomedical Engineering. ...
  7. Materials Engineering. ...
  8. Petroleum Engineering. ...

What is the hardest science degree in the world? ›

Chemistry is famous for being one of the hardest subjects ever, so it's no surprise that a Chemistry degree is fiercely challenging. Just one topic in Chemistry (for example, organic chemistry) is incredibly complex.

Which brain imaging technique has the highest resolution? ›

Magnetic Resonance Imagery (MRI)

It represents the Holy Grail in brain imaging techniques as well as for medical imaging in general.

What is the least invasive brain scan? ›

Minimally Invasive Brain Surgery: Diagnostic Neuroimaging Services
  • Positron Emission Tomography (PET) Scan.
  • Magnetic Resonance Angiogram (MRA) Scan.
  • Cerebrospinal Fluid Analysis (Spinal Tap or Lumbar Puncture)
  • Evoked Potentials.
  • Myelogram.
  • Ultrasound (Sonogram)
  • Neurosonogram.
  • Magnetoencephalogram (MEG)

Why don t psychiatrists use brain scans? ›

New research finds that previous studies of mental illness using brain scans may be too small for the results to be reliable.

What are three of the most important brain imaging technologies? ›

Commonly used brain imaging techniques are: functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) computerized tomography (CT) positron emission tomography (PET)

What are 5 techniques used in neuroscience research to measure physiological changes that happen in consumers? ›

In this article, we'll have a closer look at five regularly used neuromarketing techniques to see how they work and in what kind of context it's most suited: eye tracking, brain imaging (EEG and fMRI), facial encoding, sensory marketing and psychological techniques.

What is the neuroscientific theory? ›

Neuroscience links our observations about cognitive behavior with the actual physical processes that support such behavior. Nervous system as a lineage structure with features of self-organizing and changes with use throughout the lifetime.

What neuroscience method has the best temporal resolution? ›

EEG has an excellent temporal resolution of only a fraction of a millisecond enabling brain activity to be recorded in real-time.

Which is the most advanced scan? ›

​September 2021, the 11.7 Tesla MRI of the Iseult project, the most powerful in the world for human imaging, has just unveiled its first images.

What are the 3 types of brain scans? ›

There are three major types of brain scans. They are computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and positive emission tomography (PET).

Which discovery is most recent? ›

Ten Scientific Discoveries From 2021 That May Lead to New...
  • Scientists Decode the "Clap" of Butterfly Wings.
  • Tardigrades Have an Insect-Like Walk.
  • Slime Mold Stores “Memories” Without Even Having a Brain.
  • With a Soap-Like Protein, Human Cells Can Ward Off Bacteria.
29 Dec 2021

What is the most recent planet discovery? ›

The discoverers: The discovery of TOI-1075 b's hefty mass was announced by an international science team led by Zahra Essack of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The planet had been added previously to the NASA Exoplanet Archive.

What will be the next biggest scientific breakthrough? ›

  • 1.1 Wearable devices.
  • 1.2 Internet of Things.
  • 1.3 Big Data and Machine Learning.
  • 1.4 Cryptocurrency.
  • 1.5 Driverless cars.
  • 1.6 3D printing.
  • 1.7 Virtual reality.
  • 1.8 Genomics.

What is the most important discovery in the last 10 years? ›

1. Higgs boson. It took four years, thousands of people and the world's biggest machine, but, in 2012, particle physicists at CERN announced the discovery of the Higgs boson. The particle helps explain why all other particles in the universe have mass, and its discovery completed the standard model of particle physics.

What animal brain is closest to humans? ›

eLife digest

The human brain is about three times as big as the brain of our closest living relative, the chimpanzee.

How did humans become so intelligent? ›

According to the “cultural brain hypothesis,” humans evolved large brains and great intelligence in order to keep up with our complex social groups. We've always been a social species, and we may have developed our intelligence in part to maintain those relationships and function successfully in these environments.

What was the last sense to evolve? ›

Hearing in air came last, because sound waves are weak compared to electromagnetic waves such as light, and require specialised structures to amplify the signal, especially for high frequencies. Fully-functioning ears didn't evolve until 275 million years ago.

What topics do you learn in neuroscience? ›

If you major in neuroscience, you'll study stress, memory, and other mysteries of the brain and nervous system. Neuroscience majors study a combination of subjects, including psychology and chemistry, to deepen their understanding of the brain and the nervous system.

What topics do neuroscientists study? ›

Developmental neuroscience describes how the brain forms, grows, and changes. Cognitive neuroscience is about how the brain creates and controls thought, language, problem-solving, and memory. Molecular and cellular neuroscience explores the genes, proteins, and other molecules that guide how neurons function.

What is the best research topic 2022? ›

Here is the list of the top 10 research topics for your science essays.
  • Scientific Explanation behind IVF: How does it impact the baby.
  • Investigate the benefits of Forensic Science Technology.
  • Impact of COVID-19 pandemic on global warming and climate change.
  • New findings for Cancer Biology.
6 Sept 2022

What research topic that is cool? ›

Some common research paper topics include abortion, birth control, child abuse, gun control, history, climate change, social media, AI, global warming, health, science, and technology. But we have many more! On this page, we have hundreds of good research paper topics across a wide range of subject fields.

What are three challenges for the future of neuroscience? ›

  • Summary.
  • Introduction.
  • Challenge 1. Change the way neuroscience is done.
  • Challenge 2. Data ladders.
  • Challenge 3. Predictive neuroscience.
  • Challenge 4. Simulating the brain.
  • Challenge 5. Classifying and simulating diseases of the brain.
  • Challenge 6. From the brain to brain-inspired technology.
17 Oct 2013

What is the most mysterious part of the brain? ›

That last one is the most mysterious so it's my favorite. The posterior cingulate cortex (PCC) has been called the 'dark energy of the brain. ' It consumes more calories than any other part of the brain (and the brain itself consumes a lot - 20% of the calories you eat). And we have no idea where that energy goes.

What are questions that Cannot be answered scientifically? ›

What happens to us after we die? How did so much life appear on our planet when others seem devoid of any species at all? Who, if anyone, pulls the strings of our universe? Is it some all-powerful god in control or are there physical and mathematical principles driving the engine of our existence?

Do neuroscientists need a PhD? ›

The journey to become a neuroscientist will begin to pick up speed after high school. You'll need to earn a bachelor's degree and then a master's degree and/or a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD). If you intend on working with patients, you will need to earn a degree from medical school and a physician's license.

Who are famous neuroscientists? ›

List of neuroscientists
NameLifetimeAwards or eponymous
Róbert Bárány1876–1936Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine - 1914.
Cornelia Bargmann1961–Kavli prize in Neuroscience - 2012., Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences - 2013.
Ben Barres1954–2017Ralph W. Gerard Prize in Neuroscience-2016
Jessica Barsonfl.2000-2020
133 more rows

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