Associate Professor, Faculty of Science, Integrative Neurophysiology
To develop a ‘theory of critical brain dynamics’ with clinical and commercial applications
Our thinking of “brain and cognition” is influenced by progress in understanding the role of self-organization in non-linear systems for the emergence and character of complexity in nature. The evidence suggests that many natural systems are attracted to a so-called “critical state”, which is characterized by correlated fluctuations on many spatial and temporal scales. Interestingly, not only are the generic mechanisms of self-organized critical systems present in neuronal networks, but the critical state may also be beneficial for optimal information processing.
Therefore, we explore the framework of criticality to study ongoing neuronal oscillations and cognition. However, is brain and cognition not to be studied in the context of sensory stimuli? Not necessarily. Oscillations come and go — thoughts come and go. In fact, the prevalence of mind wandering in everyday life, and the high heritability of ongoing brain activity and complex cognitive traits, suggest that it is fundamentally important to understand the endogenous variation in brain and cognition. Of note, brain-related disorders tend to impact endogenous cognition more so than sensory processing. These are some of the reasons why we focus on developing experimental paradigms, computational models, and biomarker algorithms to better understand variation in endogenous oscillations and cognition.
We see many possibilities to develop applications of commercial and societal value on the basis of our curiosity-driven and fundamental research. Therefore, we increasingly team up with non-academic partners to bring state-of-the-art neuroscience insight and methods to the market. We also pursue the development of advanced EEG analysis pipelines incorporating AI and machine learning to better guide the selection of treatments in children with neurodevelopmental disorders in general albeit with a focus on autism spectrum disorder. To this end, my group works closely with a child psychiatrist with whom I have founded a spin-off company as well as a center for precision medicine.