We recently had the pleasure of speaking to Dr Lennart Verhagen who will be joining us in London this September at the Brainbox Initiative Conference. Lennart obtained his PhD, How to Grasp a Ripe Tomato, wherein he investigated the fundamental mechanisms that underlie the interaction between abstract and spatial processing in the guidance of grasping movements, from Radboud University Nijmegen in 2012. Now, at the University of Oxford, Lennart’s research has moved from overripe tomatoes to cutting-edge low-intensity focused transcranial ultrasound and how this technique can be used to modulate neural activity with high specificity – even deep in the brain. Read our full interview with Lennart below.
Hi Lennart, and thanks again for your time. We’re really excited to have you on board for the conference. Can you tell us a little bit about your current research project, and why you chose this area to study?
With ultrasound, we’re at the dawn of a whole new era in brain stimulation. We are very excited about its potential to target deep brain circuits with high precision.
At the same time, we should be humble and hold our horses. My research is aimed to establish foundations of ultrasound neuromodulation for basic research and clinical applications. I test novel repetitive ultrasound protocols, develop tools to quantify longer-lasting neuromodulation across the whole brain, and focus on modelling and safety in human applications.
I’m particularly excited about our current work where we use ultrasound to interfere with cognitive functions in macaque monkeys, for example to study the contribution of deep cortical and subcortical circuits in decision-making and learning.
And what kind of equipment do you need to have at your disposal to help carry out research like this?
I believe that to understand the brain and mind, and especially to advance new options in the clinic, it is as important to stimulate neural circuits as it is to measure from them. I focus my research on non-invasive recording and stimulation techniques, but amongst those, I’m not particularly discriminatory. I try to pick the best tool for the job.
So what, in your opinion, do you think that the future of non-invasive brain stimulation looks like?
The future of brain stimulation will be fun. Focused ultrasound neuromodulation.
Kidding aside, ultrasound won’t replace our conventional electromagnetic approaches, but it will provide a terribly exciting complement to our current toolkit.
Do you have any wise words or advice for any early-career neuroscientists looking at your research as they start their journey and wondering what their next steps should be?
There are many roads to success. Your supervisor’s road is just one – and probably a boring one at that!
Life, opportunities, and self-worth are not limited to academia.
Finally, then, let’s not limit ourselves to academia. When you’re not carrying out research, what are your interests in your day-to-day life?
I should be saying I love to read and cook. Which I do love, but no longer do really.
What I do do and love is chasing my boys in the park, lifting them up high and playing Flying Man (a new amazing superhero, coming to a movie theatre near you soon!)
Thanks again to Lennart for sparing some time to talk to us. We’re extremely excited to be welcoming Lennart to the Brainbox Initiative Conference, and can’t wait to hear more about his groundbreaking research using transcranial focused ultrasound.
The Brainbox Initiative Conference 2019 will take place on September 26-27, 2019.