Using Computer Models of the Neural Mechanisms of Visual Processing to Non-Invasively Modulate Brain States

2024 Scientific Innovations Award
James J DiCarlo, M.D., Ph.D.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Rosalie A. Ciardullo Grant

DiCarlo’s research team is exploring an innovative approach to address emotional challenges, such as anxiety and depression. Traditional treatments for these disorders can be complex and often cause unpleasant side effects, so the research team is investigating a unique idea, where they extend and utilize computer models of vision to test the possibility of beneficially influencing a person’s emotional state. Their plan involves presenting carefully designed images to our eyes, with the goal of improving our emotional well-being. Image creation is aided by complex computer models which can predict what images will best activate particular sets of neurons (brain cells) in brain regions that process visual images and in connected brain regions involved in regulating emotion.

Currently, researchers are conducting tests on animals to see if this concept is effective. If successful, they plan to extend these investigations to humans. The ultimate goal of this line of work would be a non-invasive clinical treatment, similar to watching a movie. A sequence of specially crafted images would be viewed by a patient at a prescribed frequency (similar to a dosage for a medicine). The idea is that by repeatedly exposing our eyes to these images, our minds could experience positive changes in emotional state and thereby be an effective treatment for mood (depression) and anxiety-related disorders.

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