Prado of ECE looks at ‘brain hacking’ to treat neurodegenerative diseases

University of Santo Tomas Electronics Engineering (ECE) faculty member and neuroengineer Seigfred V. Prado delivered a lecture titled “Brain Hacking: Cracking the Neural Code and Rewiring the Brain Network for the Treatment of Neurodegenerative Diseases.” The lecture was held on March 28, 2019, at the UST Fr. Roque Ruaño, O.P. Building.

In the two hour-long lecture, Prado discussed how the brain works in connection to his line of research, neuroengineering; the engineer’s view of the brain; some possible tools in cracking the neural code; an introduction to neurodegenerative diseases; and current trends in neurotechnology. He also engaged with his audience during the open forum.

Doctoral training in Neurotechnology
Prado is the first-ever Asian to receive the prestigious Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) Centre for Doctoral Training in Neurotechnology for Life and Health studentship award. He is currently a doctoral student under the Bioengineering program with Specialization in Neurotechnology at the Imperial College London in the United Kingdom. In 2015, he obtained the degree of Master of Science in Electronic Engineering from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology through the Arthur and
Louise May Scholarship Award for Outstanding Young Engineers.

Having graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Electronics Engineering degree from the University of Santo Tomas in 2011, Prado’s interest on research grew and his interests turned to areas such as: the interface of signal and image processing, biomedical photonics, and neuroengineering. He would like to investigate brain-computer interfacing, neuroimaging, and neurorehabilitation, with the goal of eventually rehabilitating patients with stroke and neurodegenerative diseases.

Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking, and behavior with symptoms that worsen over time, eventually becoming severe enough to interfere with daily tasks. Serious memory loss, confusion about events, time, and places, and difficulty walking and communicating clearly are some of its common symptoms. It is the most common cause of dementia, a general term for loss of memory and other cognitive abilities that is serious enough to interfere with daily life. Dementia is one of the major causes of disability and dependency among older people worldwide, and around 50 million people are afflicted with it. AD accounts for 60 percent to 80 percent of dementia cases, according to a 2017 report by the World Health Organization.

The brain’s nerve cells, called neurons, connect with each other to form communication networks. These cells have multiple functions, including processing and storing information and communicating with other cells. Scientists posit that AD prevents the cell from functioning as it is supposed to. As the damage spreads, the cells lose their ability to do their tasks, and eventually die, which causes supposedly irreversible changes in the brain. As more neurons die, the neuron network of the afflicted person has an increasingly
difficult time communicating, leading to gradually worsening symptoms.

For a person with AD showing severe memory loss, the ‘lost’ memory information remains in the brain. However, it cannot be accessed because the key neurons have died as a result of the neurodegenerative disease.

‘Brain Hacking’
Brain hacking, which Prado defines as “deciphering how we can alter the brain activity and brain structure in order to investigate applications of neurotechnology,” is being researched as a possible solution to improve treatment of neurodegenerative diseases.Prado’s current doctoral research is on developing a multiphoton imaging platform for characterizing memory circuit dynamics and hippocampal synaptic changes in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s Disease (AD). He hypothesizes that rewiring the brain network, possibly through neurostimulation that can create redundant neural pathways, may help retrieve memory and prevent memory loss in patients with dementia. The redundant neural pathways are intended to function like detours that can be used to access
memories on a path previously blocked due to damaged or dead neurons.

According to Prado’s profile on PinoyScientists, “The imaging platform will enable single-cell resolution mapping of information processing in mouse models of dementia during the performance of memory tasks. This has the potential to accelerate the process of development of both pharmacological and neuromodulation- based approaches to treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, particularly Alzheimer’s disease. The research aims to develop a technique that can potentially offer a non-invasive and affordable treatment option for patients with neurodegenerative diseases.”

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