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UNC School of Medicine researcher Garret Stuber was one of 13 top neuroscientists to recently receive a grant as part of the new DECODE (Deciphering Circuit Basis of Disease) program, which was inaugurated this summer by Inscopix, Inc. to support the Presidential BRAIN Initiative. The grant was announced at the Society of Neurosciences annual meeting.

Stuber, an assistant professor of psychiatry and cell biology and physiology, is the fifth UNC researcher to be granted research dollars this year to support the NIH Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative. Earlier this fall, Bryan L. Roth, MD, PhD; Thomas Kash, PhD; Jin Jian, PhD; and Spencer Smith, PhD, received grants to support the BRAIN Initiative.

Stuber, who is also a member of the UNC Neuroscience Center, received $5,000 for lab expenses and a new $75,000 Inscopix miniature nVista imaging system that is not yet commercially available but has been released to a limited number of labs. The miniature microscope can help scientists visualize neural circuits over time in free-moving mice.

“We will use the microscope to image the activity of hundreds to thousands of genetically defined neurons as animals transition from normal to obese,” Stuber said. “We have reason to believe that certain brain cell types, which are important for motivation, will show dramatic changes in their activity patterns.”

Documenting the changes to neural circuits involved in such motivation will give researchers more evidence of the underlying genetic causes of obesity, binge eating, and anorexia nervosa, as well as other conditions, including addiction.

Tom Insel, director of the National Institutes of Mental Health, said during the Inscopix announcement, “What is the language of the brain and how do we begin to decode that? This is probably the challenge of the century. It’s fantastically exciting that Inscopix has decided to crowdsource this challenge by providing the equipment to get started to the best and brightest scientists.”

In Stuber’s previous work, published in Science, his team used a technique called optogenetics to identify the cellular connections from one part of the brain to another that trigger overeating.

Earlier this fall, Stuber was awarded a Hettleman Prize from UNC, and last year he was awarded the Freedman Prize for Exceptional Basic Science Research by the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation.

For more on Stuber, please see this recent School of Medicine profile:

By Mark Derewicz, School of Medicine

Published: November 21, 2014