The growing life expectancy of the population has resulted in an escalation of some age-related neurodegenerative disorders. As the information environment is constantly growing in complexity, the human cognitive system is beginning to show signs of failure. Radical urbanization has lead to an upsurge of adverse factors affecting the people's health, including various neurological disorders. These and other challenges are at the focus of cutting-edge R&D projects carried out at many leading universities across the globe, including HSE University.
The key research areas where HSE University possesses extensive expertise are as follows:
- neurocognitive mechanisms of normal and pathological speech production;
- neurocognitive mechanisms of perception, movement, and decision-making;
- neurobiological studies of personal preferences during social interactions, including mechanisms underlying cooperation and competition;
- neurocognitive research and modelling of visual perception and attention in humans;
- neurotechnology and neuroimaging.
In the Russian academia, HSE University has secured a leading position in a broad range of cognitive research areas, such as decision-making, speech and communication, neurolinguistics, motor control, mechanisms underlying attention and memory, etc. The University has developed a unique research facility, the "Automated System of Non-invasive Brain Stimulation Allowing for Synchronous Registration of Bio-electrical Current in the Brain and Eye Fixation Tracking", for in-depth research of brain activity. Today, HSE University is the only Russian research institution with simultaneous access to several (MRI-navigated) transcranial brain stimulation systems, direct and alternating current stimulation systems, multi-channel EEG systems, eye tracking systems, and the only MEG system in Russia (jointly owned with MSUPE). HSE University has also created the only neuroeconomics research centre in Russia - the HSE Centre for Cognition & Decision Making.
At the next stage, the University's research laboratories will focus on promoting basic research related to perception of information and human behaviour, as well as disseminating clinical and applied research findings, and developing new technologies and programmes for restoration and optimization of neurocognitive functions. The primary mission of this research area is to develop interdisciplinary models of human behaviour at the confluence of social, biomedical, and computer sciences.
Drawing upon its extensive expertise, the University will concentrate on opening centres of excellence in the following areas:
Studies of the Mechanisms of Optimal Human Brain Function, including:
- experimental investigation, neuroimaging, and modelling the processes related to human visual perception and attention. The University will continue its research in the fields of experimental and computational cognitive neuroscience and promote the integration of cognitive psychology, computer science, and cognitive neuroscience both in its theoretical and methodological dimensions. Computational modelling is a fairly new and effective tool utilized by psychologists and neuroscientists. It is designed to quantify modern cognitive theories, test their predictive power in the course of experiments, as well as integrate various experimental data in a single complex model;
- studies of normality and pathology of sensorimotor coordination and motor control. This will include producing motor and sensory topographic maps of primary sensory areas and uncovering the role of spontaneous brain activity in sensory and motor maps dynamics. The obtained results will be subsequently used in the development of new algorithms for preoperative brain mapping and protocols for restoring brain functions;
- validation of traditional economic decision-making models based on data from behavioural economics and neural mapping. The key purpose of this programme is to study decision-making processes, as well as personal preferences related to cooperation and competition. All research projects will be interdisciplinary in nature: they will study the neurobiological, social and psychological determinants underlying cooperative and competitive behaviour in connection with personal attitudes, values, cultural, historical, geographical, language-related and other factors. This will include an in-depth study of the fundamental aspects of decision-making (practical value, rational and emotional decision-making mechanisms, social norms, etc.) These studies will facilitate the development of neurotechnologies for optimizing decision-making and applied models and technologies for analyzing consumer behaviour.
Identifying New Cognitive Risk Factors, including:
- digitalization, including neural markers of digital involvement;
- neurourbanism. HSE University plans to open the first research centre in Russia working in the field of neurocognitive studies of human perception of the urban environment and its impact on human health. Uncomfortable urban environment may lead to stress and physiological changes among various groups of the population. Thanks to neurophysiological research, we can gain an objective understanding of the impact of urban environment on personal well-being, as well as develop a system for objective assessment of the effects of changes in spatial planning.
Developing New Neurotechnologies for Restoring, Optimizing, and Improving Cognitive Functions, including:
- the brain-computer interfaces. Neurointerface is a cutting-edge and actively developing technology designed for rehabilitation of patients with brain lesions, as well as for empowering human ability to control external devices and facilitating communication between people. As one of its key areas, the University will focus on the development of a multi-channel feedback interface relying on ECOG arrays implanted in patients. Algorithmic approaches for the interface will be developed in collaboration with leading experts from US universities;
- the latest neurotechnologies for monitoring brain activity. The primary goal of this project is to develop a MEG of a new generation designed for non-invasive monitoring of the electrical activity in the human brain with unparalleled spatial and temporal accuracy. A new technology based on so-called atomic magnetometers designed for measuring weak magnetic fields will significantly reduce the cost of the device, making it affordable to a wider range of clinical and research institutions. It will also ensure excellent results in the diagnostics of neurological disorders and cognitive research;
- neurocognitive tools for the prevention and correction of speech disorders. HSE University will continue research on speech disorders (aphasia) caused by focal brain damage, usually occurring as a result of a stroke or injury. The psycholinguistic and neuronal mechanisms of speech impairment and the relationship between speech and general cognitive processes will be investigated using a detailed examination of speech function based on structural and functional neuroimaging. As a result, objective non-invasive methods for assessing the cognitive functions (attention, lexical-semantic memory, etc.) will be proposed, as well as optimal protocols for non-invasive mapping of neuronal activity related to speech perception and speech production (in normality and pathology) using MEG, fMRI, and TMS;
- developing new protocols for stimulating human brain activity designed for diagnostic studies of patients. The University will continue to study the impacts of non-invasive stimulation on brain neuroplasticity and neural network effectiveness in terms of physiology and behaviour, including possible improvements in the cognitive abilities of patients with psychiatric and neurological disorders. On account of possible individual variations in susceptibility to brain stimulation among patients with brain injuries, a special methodology will be developed for selecting patients who are most likely to benefit from non-invasive stimulation, as well as for choosing the optimal stimulation protocol.
The key efforts aimed at the promotion of this research area in its entirety will include developing new educational programmes, procuring new equipment, ensuring close collaboration between different subdivisions and intensified cooperation with medical research centres and international partners, as well as laying the foundation for capitalization of intellectual property and technological developments.
HSE University today is a national leader in terms of the application of key neuroimaging methods, and this is why in the future it can become the first research resource centre in Eastern Europe responsible for studies of human brain activity. This will open doors to the unique technology of non-invasive visualization of brain activity for various groups of HSE University’s staff members and students, as well as the University's partners. The new resource centre will allow HSE University to join the ranks of leading global universities with access to fully-fledged facilities required for conducting neurological and psychophysiological research of the brain functions (such as MIT, UCL, Cambridge University, etc.)
Furthermore, cooperation with medical institutions will be notably expanded, including the Federal Centre for Cerebrovascular Pathology and Apoplexy (with a special emphasis on neurorehabilitation), the Clinical Medical Centre under the Moscow State University of Medicine and Dentistry (brain-computer interface), the Centre of Speech Pathology and Neurorehabilitation under the Department of Health of Moscow (speech disorders), the National Medical and Surgical Centre named after N.I. Pirogov (preoperative mapping), and the Loginov Moscow Clinical Scientific Centre (social and behavioural determinant factors of chronic diseases).
In order to further amplify the available biomedical agenda, it is feasible to open a centre for motor control research aimed at translating the obtained research findings into medical practice, as well as offering rehabilitation services to patients with motor function impairments. This centre can help develop new approaches to personalized medical solutions for patients.
Contributions to the Advancement of Education
Master's programme in Cognitive Sciences and Technology: from Neuron to Cognition (delivered in English) will feature new educational tracks on cognitive psychology, neurophysiology, and mathematical modelling. A special focus will be made on the involvement of students, including PhD students, in research and project work of research labs, development of a joint Master-PhD track, and synchronization of the programme in Cognitive Sciences and Technology: from Neuron to Cognition with the cognitive sciences track of the relevant doctoral school.
In addition, continuing education courses for external clients will be launched, mainly in the field of cognitive technologies, decision-making and neuromarketing.
The University will create a lab setting for a new Specialist-level programme in clinical psychology, which will also be instrumental for further development of programmes "Cognitive Sciences and Technologies", "Computational Cognitive Science", and "The Science of Learning". This will also ensure University's effective participation in the international Master's programme "EMCL — the Erasmus+ Mundus Joint Master Degree Programme in Clinical Linguistics", as well as in the international PhD programme "IDEALAB – International Doctorate for Experimental Approaches to Language and Brain".
Response to the Challenges of Socio-economic development, Applied R&D
The development of a new generation of software will become one of the most important tangible results in this research area. This software will be designed for mapping the dynamic activity of the brain in the course of cognition in various social contexts, as well as in the course of interpersonal communications. New brain stimulation protocols will be proposed using the methods (TDCS, TACS, TMS) which allow to perform diagnostic studies of patients, assess cognitive functions, and provide rehabilitation with a special focus on cognitive and social functions of the brain. Based on the obtained research findings, a new generation of communication systems will be introduced – the brain-computer interface. Neuroeconomic research findings will be translated into approaches ensuring optimization of decision-making processes and development of new models and technologies capable of predicting consumer behaviour in various contexts.
These solutions will lay the foundation for further promotion of HSE University’s research products on the market and R&D capitalization, including royalty. The University plans to open an applied centre of neurotechnologies focused on patent-intensive and commercialized solutions. Furthermore, the R&D produced by the HSE University’s labs in cognitive sciences will be aligned with the relevant objectives laid down in the roadmap of the Russian National Technology Initiative "NeuroNet" which is targeted at neurocognitive research and development of neurocognitive interfaces.
The University's progress in research on cognitive sciences can ultimately result in the emergence of a leading national platform for interdisciplinary (social, economic, cognitive, and computational) research on human behaviour using high-tech neuroimaging equipment. This research area will help put HSE University's social, humanitarian, and computational studies in the context of the global technological revolution in bioscience.