UBC’s School of Biomedical Engineering (SBME) is pleased to announce that Dr. Manu Madhav, one of our newest Faculty members, has been named a Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Neural Circuits of Cognition and Control.

The Canada Research Chairs Program (CRCP) is designed to make Canada one of the top countries in scientific development by attracting a diverse cadre of world-class researchers. Dr. Madhav’s CRC is a sign of things to come as the CRC program broadens its research footprint at post-secondary institutions across Canada.

“Dr. Madhav’s CRC is a recognition of just how broad and impactful the SBME’s research mandate can be,” says SBME Director, Peter Zandstra. “Dr. Madhav is doing exciting work in the cognitive health spaces with technologies not normally equated with medicine. The coming years will be fascinating to watch as a Tier 2 CRC puts him in a wonderful position to build new and meaningful collaborations in pursuit of his work. It’s a very well-deserved honour.”

Why Study the Neural Circuits of Cognition and Control?

Understanding cognition and behaviour provides insights that can fuel the development of new therapies and devices in biomimetics and robotics. New computational algorithms and novel approaches to integrated sensing and actuation will provide better data and novel methods to measure, and possibly treat, everything from fall risks to impaired proprioception to neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s.

This CRC ensures that the Canadian health care community can leverage these innovations without having to look outside the country. A more holistic grasp of the mechanisms of spatial cognition could put future caregivers in a position to assess, diagnose and intervene much earlier in certain diseases so that patient outcomes improve, and the health care system carries a far lighter burden.

This is why Dr. Madhav’s research is so exciting.

Dr. Madhav’s Work

As an engineer and roboticist turned neuroscientist, Dr. Madhav comes to the problems of understanding the intricacies of neural circuits and control with a unique perspective. He studies biological systems at both behavioral and neural levels using carefully engineered experimental apparatus.

The insights garnered can inform biology in the form of increasing our knowledge about behaviour, computations and mechanisms that pave exciting pathways for inquiry and exploration.

Dr. Madhav on his CRC

What does it mean to you to be named a CRC?

To be named a Canada Research Chair is, to me, an incredibly special recognition of my work, and represents a lasting commitment to support Canadian basic science. As a scientist who likes to perform exciting but risky multidisciplinary research, and as a new immigrant to Canada, this appointment makes me feel supported as well as appreciated.

What do you hope this will lead to both for yourself and for the field?

I hope programs like CRC will lead to more exposure and understanding by the Canadian general public about the variety and innovative nature of research undertaken using their tax dollars. I also hope that appointments like mine bring much-needed recognition to the intersection of neuroscience and engineering, where we are attempting to use cutting-edge techniques to understand the fundamentals of how our brains control our bodies and behaviour.

What are you excited to pursue next?

The research in our NC4 lab looks at how the brain performs navigation and problem solving by creating representations (maps) of our environment. This is a question that requires a multidisciplinary approach, involving engineering techniques to build and operate large experimental apparatuses, biological techniques to collect behavioural and neural data, and mathematical techniques to analyze and model this data. We have in our first year, built an experimental apparatus capable of collecting vast amounts of neural data during complex behaviour. The CRC support would allow us to push this research forward, as well as construct an additional novel experiment that will attempt to bridge our knowledge of navigation in animals and humans using virtual reality. We will use this knowledge to design virtual-reality-based tests and interventions to detect signs of cognitive impairment or dementia.

Our research draws from many fields including robotics, neuroscience, algebraic topology and machine learning. While the trajectory is exciting, it takes years of methodical work to establish and develop such a research program. The CRC is an important stepping stone for my career and the lab’s future, in terms of being able to attract talented students, exciting collaborators and vital funding over the long term.

“I would like to thank the staff and faculty at UBC, and in particular the School of Biomedical Engineering, who have continuously supported my efforts in setting up a research program during these trying times.” – Dr. Manu Madhav

Learn More About Dr. Madhav’s Research

To find out more about Dr. Madhav’s work, check out the NC4 lab.