Research Challenge 2021 Winner: Ben Clennell, University of Bristol

We are excited to announce that Ben Clennell (University of Bristol) has been awarded the Brainbox Initiative's Research Challenge award for 2021 for his ambitious research proposal 'Can transcranial ultrasound stimulation enhance memory function?'.

At present, Ben is working on a PhD using transcranial focused ultrasound neuromodulation techniques at Bristol University. To date, his primary research has focused on elucidating molecular mechanisms using in vitro primary cell cultures and animal models.

Ben's Research Challenge application proposes an impressive pilot project wherein he will make use of cutting-edge transcranial focused ultrasound stimulation (TUS/tFUS) techniques to establish whether TUS can be used to promote memory function in humans.

'Millions of people globally are affected by neurological disorders associated with memory disturbance,' Ben tells us, 'Human memory is a distributed process with medial temporal regions at its epicentre.'

While there are existing studies that have tried to modulate memory function by directly stimulating temporal areas, the effects have been inconsistent. 'This may be because stimulation is typically delivered during a memory task,' Ben notes, 'possibility interrupting endogenous signalling that is crucial for memory function.'

Ben's Research Challenge proposal seeks to avoid this by employing trasncranial focused ultrasound stimulation as a preconditioning tool. In a recent study, Ben reported that a single 40-second stimulation session (in vitro) induced an enhancement of intrinsic neuronal excitability of targeted neurons that lasted for several hours.

'We will therefore seek to modify the excitability of targeted neurons, increasing their propensity to activate and improving neural circuit transmission efficiency in subsequent cognitive tasks. Previous work indicates stimulation of the lateral temporal cortex in humans improves verbal memory performance. We will therefore explore if targeting this region with ultrasound impacts on subsequent performance in memory-related cognitive tasks.'

Ben's winning proposal was chosen by the Brainbox Initiative's Scientific Committee, comprised of some of the world's leading non-invasive brain stimulation experts, for its ambitious aims, novel use of TUS technologies, and clear and concise research timeline. We believe that Ben's proposal will help to contribute some fantastic work to the ever-growing field of transcranial focused ultrasound neuromodulation research.