Graphic of human brain with pills/drugs

Alzheimer's Research Uses Innovative Clinical Design, Precision Medicine Tools

September 5, 2018

Recent research has raised hopes that new drugs can help slow or reverse the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. While promising breakthroughs abound in this arena, what distinguishes the development of one of these drugs, BAN2401, was the clinical trial's "adaptive design." That approach "ensured that when new subjects were recruited, they were more likely to be assigned to arms of the trial that showed the greatest promise," according to the Los Angeles Times. Advocates for adaptive design note it can make clinical trials more flexible, efficient and ethical because it makes effective treatments more readily available to patients. Critics are concerned that such adaptation opens the door to biased studies. To read a recent symposium on challenges to the conduct of high-quality laboratory research, click here. The other promising drug, Anavex 2-73, was developed using precision medicine approaches. "Researchers [focused on studying a small group of] Alzheimer’s patients who bear a few 'actionable genetic variants.'" These variants were identified by genomic sequencing intended to find participants most likely to have a positive response to the drugs. On Nov. 29, the Consortium is co-sponsoring a free, public conference and webcast, "Law, Genomic Medicine & Health Equity" that will discuss some of the implications of precision medicine for traditionally underserved populations; co-sponsors are the Meharry-Vanderbilt Alliance, Vanderbilt Health, and the Minnesota Precision Medicine Collaborative. The event will be held at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, TN; to learn more and register, click here


Vercise deep brain stimulation device

Key Parkinson's Brain Stimulation Research Led by U, Funded by MnDRIVE

January 10, 2018

A brain stimulation device just approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was developed as part of a multi-site clinical study led by University of Minnesota medical researchers and partly funded by the MnDRIVE program. According to Twin Cities Businessneurology department chair Dr. Jerrold Vitek and his research team successfully implanted the first non-trial patient with the Vercise system at the University of Minnesota Medical Center in December. The device is manufactured by Boston Scientific, and has been hailed as “one the most innovative neuromodulation technologies available today.” Deep brain stimulation is used to reduce the involuntary shaking and stiffness that are among the symptoms of Parkinson's disease. MnDRIVE – Minnesota’s Discovery, Research, and InnoVation Economy – is a partnership between the University and the State of Minnesota that aligns areas of research strength with the state’s key and emerging industries. One of of MnDRIVE's areas of focus is the treatment of brain conditions; the others are robotics, global food and the environment. 


Whole brain scan

Should Older Judges and Politicians be Evaluated for Dementia?

November 20, 2017

In a talk last week sponsored by Harvard Law School's Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology and Bioethics, Prof. Francis Shen, JD, PhD, raised the question of how to grapple with powerful people who show signs of dementia. According to an item from WBUR, a public radio station in Boston, Shen's central point was that "politicians, who have huge advantages as incumbents, and federal judges, who serve for life, tend to stay on the job well past typical retirement ages. Yet we know that some cognitive decline with age is normal, and that the risk of dementia skyrockets as we get older. So it's reasonable to conclude that some judges and politicians are no longer up to their tasks." Shen is a Consortium affilate faculty member who specializes in neurolaw; he's currently a fellow at Petrie-Flom. Ultimately, Shen recommended a middle way, one that doesn't involve mandatory retirement ages for elected officials and judges but also doesn't ignore the social risks of their cognitive decline. Read the entire article here


Francis X. Shen

Video Available for Shen Neurolaw Lecture

October 5, 2017

Prof. Francis Shen, a Consortium affiliate member, recently delivered a lecture entitled "The Neurolaw Revolution" at Harvard Law School. Prof. Shen is currently a Senior Fellow in the Project on Law and Applied Neuroscience, a collaboration between the Center for Law, Brain & Behavior at Massachusetts General Hospital and the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard. In his talk, Prof. Shen explored how neuroscientific analysis of law is revolutionizing legal doctrine and practice. He is on the faculty of University of Minnesota Law School, where he directs the Shen Neurolaw Lab. Video of the event is now posted online here.


Prof. Francis Shen

Prof. Francis X. Shen Named McKnight Presidential Fellow

August 10, 2017

Consortium affiliate faculty member Francis X. Shen, JD, PhD, has been named a 2017-19 McKnight Presidential Fellow. This fellowship program is targeted at the University of Minnesota’s most promising faculty who have been newly granted tenure and promotion to associate professor; it recognizes their scholarly accomplishments and supports their ongoing research and scholarship with supplemental funding for a three-year period. In his research and teaching, Prof. Shen examines the increasingly important intersection of law and the brain sciences. His work is aimed at delineating the principles by which cognitive neuroscience should—and should not—be embraced by courts and legislatures. Shen joined the Law School faculty in 2012, and also serves as executive director of education and outreach for the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Law and Neuroscience.



Brain Scientists Push Back on "Technology Fetish"

February 28, 2017

A new study described by The Atlantic as "part philosophical treatise and part shot across the bow," argues that neuroscientists have been led astray by new research technologies. The authors point to the need for "a more pluralistic notion of neuroscience when it comes to the brain-behavior relationship: behavioral work provides understanding, whereas neural interventions test causality." Lead author John Krakauer notes, "People think technology + big data + machine learning = science. And it’s not." One example is mirror neurons, "the most hyped concept in neuroscience," in which "interpretation is being mistaken for result." Read the study, published in Neuron, here



Prof. Jerrold Vitek

Major Grant Will Focus on Promising Parkinson's Treatment

September 26, 2016

The University of Minnesota has been awarded a five-year, $9 million grant for Parkinson’s research. Jerrold Vitek, MD, PhD, will lead the study, which establishes a prestigious Udall Center of Excellence in Parkinson's Disease Research on campus, one of only nine such centers in the nation. An article about the grant in Twin Cities Business Magazine quotes Brian Herman, PhD, the U's Vice President for Research: "I think it puts this university in a very elite class of other major U.S. and international research universities that have recognized expertise." Prof. Vitek's work focuses on the therapeutic effect of deep brain stimulation (DBS), which he likens to "a pacemaker for the brain." Watch a video about the grant and DBS here


Girl using BCI headseht to race drone

First Race of Brain-controlled Drones Builds on U of M Research

April 26, 2016

A recent competition at the University of Florida featured a race of 16 drones guided by human thoughts. The technology, called Brain Computer Interface (BCI), has been used in the past to help some paralyzed people manipulate prosthetics with their minds. In 2013, University of Minnesota biomedical engineering professor Bin He, PhD, first presented a drone controlled by BCI, in which electroencephalogram (EEG) headsets are fine-tuned to determine the electrical activity linked with specific thoughts in the brain. Programmers then write code to convert these signals into commands a computer sends to the drones. Regarding the drone race, Prof. He noted: "The progress of the BCI field has been faster than I had thought ten years ago. We are getting closer and closer to broad application." Read more about the competition and the technology behind it here


Brain scan side view

Research Pinpoints Neural Circuits Driving PTSD

February 23, 2016

CBC News reports that new research has identified a key mechanism of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Dr. Apostolos Georgopoulos, who is on the faculty of Consortium member the Center for Cognitive Sciences, also leads the Brain Sciences Center at the Minneapolis VA. His lab has identified the neural pathways that drive the flashbacks and panic attacks that characterize PTSD. Healthy brains are able to re-form neural networks, wiping the slate clean of past stimuli to allow the absorption of new information. Using brain scans to compare healthy people vs. those who suffer from PTSD, the scientists at the lab observed "healthy people had the ability to maintain the flexibility of their networks at various trauma strength exposures," according to Georgopolous. However, those with PTSD had "inflexible" neural networks that were "locked in and couldn't be modulated." The hope is this research can be applied to create more effective PTSD therapies. Read the entire article here

Consortium Faculty

Consortium Faculty

Consortium Faculty

Consortium Faculty


Teen with orange jumpsuit

Decades of Scholarship Bear Fruit in NYC Juvenile Justice Reforms

July 15, 2015

New York City's Office of Juvenile Justice has announced changes to the way it will handle offenders between the ages of 16 and 25 in the aftermath of public outcry about the scandalous treatment of young inmates at Riker's IslandAn article in today's Huffington Post outlines these reforms and cites scholarship by University of Minnesota Law professor Barry Feld, who wrote a groundbreaking article laying out the case for such reforms nearly 20 years ago. Some scholars, including Consortium guest lecturer Laurence Steinberg, believe adolescent brain develop can continue long after the age of legal adulthood, into the mid-20s and beyond. Prof. Steinberg's lecture on the topic can be viewed here


Red State (elephant) and Blue State (donkey)

Red States, Blue States, and Brain States

February 24, 2015

new study co-authored by Consortium affiliated faculty member Prof. Francis Shen has found Republicans and Independents are more likely to disapprove of neuroscience-based legal reforms if the reforms are perceived as being too lenient on criminal defendants. The study is the first of its kind in the new field of "neurolaw," and was written with Dr. Dena Gromet of the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania.


Nano net

DNA Nanotechnology: Developing and Analyzing a New Tool for Sensing and Targeting Disease

This 2-year project used breakthrough DNA nanotechnology to engineer and evaluate materials to address major health challenges and food system issues. We propose to use aptamer-amphiphiles as DNA nanotubes to target and treat Alzheimer’s disease and brain tumors, and as sensors to detect food allergens such as milk. DNA nanotubes have the potential to deliver compounds – such as nucleic acids – to the brain safely and efficiently, while aptamer-amphiphiles can detect milk with potentially ultrafast response time.


Susan M. Wolf, JD, Founding Chair of the Consortium

Susan Wolf on Biorepository Guidelines and Incidental Findings

October 1, 2012

Prof. Susan Wolf, an elected member of the National Academies’ Institute of Medicine (IOM), is part of an IOM committee that issued recommendations for the world’s largest tissue repository, which has its origin in the Civil War. Read more. Prof. Wolf is also quoted in a recent issue of Science. In the article,"Neuroethics: When a Brain Scan Bears Bad News," she says that "although clinicians have a legal 'duty to care' for their patients, scientific researchers are not legally bound or professionally trained to interpret brain scans diagnostically."