Four CRANIA scientists receive funding for projects through UofT’s Joint EMHSeed program

Funding program designed to promote multi-disciplinary research and catalyze innovative new partnerships

A total of four CRANIA scientists have received Joint EMHSeed funding from the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering (FASE) for innovative new projects.

Joint EMHSeed is an interdivisional research program designed to promote multi-disciplinary research and catalyze new innovative partnerships between  FASE and other departments at UofT. 

CRANIA’s Drs. Xilin Liu, José Zariffa, Venkat Bhat, and Kei Masani all received funding for their work. 

Liu and Zariffa earned funding for an innovative project that seeks to create a device dedicated to easily tracking patients’ motor performance while receiving neuromodulation in the clinic and at home.  

“We’re thrilled to have the opportunity to create tools that are going to benefit the rapidly growing neuromodulation community,” Zariffa said. 

In an effort to better assist with patients’ motor functions, neuromodulations require frequent adjustments to their parameters. Currently this can only be done in a clinic, something that is inconvenient for patients and often inaccurate due to a lack of precise measurement.

Zariffa and Liu’s low-cost, easy-to-use device uses a combination of electromyography – which measures electrical activities of the muscles – and artificial intelligence applied to video data to estimate the position of the body in order to track motor performance. 

The device will pioneer an era of more convenient and effective neuromodulation treatment. It will give clinicians the ability to assess motor performance more frequently and reduce the number of times patients need to visit a hospital. 

Meanwhile, Drs. Bhat and Masani also received funding for a promising new intervention for people living with depression.

The pair’s project will examine the use of functional electrical stimulation as a potential treatment for depression.

This research attempts to understand which regions of the brain are engaged during stimulation and why those areas are effected. 

“I’m glad we’re able to launch this work,” Bhat said. “This funding will allow us to investigate the possibility of a novel intervention to one of society’s biggest challenges.”

Bhat and Masani will conduct a study where participants will receive repeated electrical stimulation to their Duchenne marker — a set of muscles on your face that activate when you smile genuinely. 

Inducing prolonged smiles in this repetitive manner impacts the brain’s emotional valence and information processing systems, and as a result alleviates symptoms of depression. 

This occurs because of neuroplasticity — a process in which the brain modifies itself to recover or function differently in response to stimuli or damage.  

Bhat is a co-principal investigator on another project with CRANIA co-founder Dr. Milos R. Popovic that uses the same paradigm to create a take home device to treat depression. 

Bhat and Masani’s project focuses on using neuroimaging and electroencephalography data to see how functional electrical stimulation affects the brain. 

Bhat believes if you can understand the neurobiological mechanisms behind these changes you can create more effective neuromodulation devices and treatments.   

Each EMHSeed project receives $60,000 a year in funding for two years. This funding supports a stipend and research expenses for one FASE graduate student and another graduate student outside of faculty.