Assistant Investigator at Shenzhen Institute of Advanced Technology, Chinese Academy of Sciences
My work focuses on developing novel methods for neuroscience research. My final goal is to interpret brain functionality on levels of small neural networks. This requires stable long term large scale extracellular recording and modulation techniques. My recent project is utilizing electrochemically modifications of the electrode surface to precisely deliver neurotransmitters and neuromodulators in order to change the activity of neurons nearby. This is somewhat similar to the technique known as iontophoresis but has numerous benefits of its own. During the drug delivery we use extracellular recording of neuron action potentials as an indicator of drug potency. Since the drug embedded in the electrode surface coating is only released when charge is injected into this polymer film and the amount of released drug is directly controlled by the polymer and stimulation type, we can modulate the neural network activity on a finer spatial and temporal scale compare to traditional methods. Rat barrel cortex (SI) is selected as our model system for testing this method due to its well characterized neural response to facial whisker sensory input. Another facet of my work relates to sensing neurotransmitter concentrations in various brain areas with electrochemical sensors. This technique can help physiologist to interpret how various drugs exert their neural effect by altering neural transmission in the brain.
Besides the drug delivery and sensing, I am also interested in applying novel surface modifications to neural implants, in order to improve the performance of these chronically implanted neural recording and stimulation electrodes. With a better neural interface, there is a lack of automatic analysis of large extracellular recording data sets, so I developed an automatic spike sorting process for this research direction based on several well-known classification algorithms. All my work is closely related to MATLAB programming, and I always try my best to learn new coding techniques for automating various types of data analysis.
All these techniques mentioned above facilitate the understanding of neural network and the development of BCI (Brain Computer Interface). Nowadays, function of brain remains one of the most mysterious problems of all scientific research, and I believe with a better understanding of neural mechanisms behind all thoughts, we can greatly extend our understanding of really who we are and what we can do with this greatest gift from the nature.
Du, Z., Bi, G. Q., & Cui, X. T. (2011, November). Effect of a novel focal electrochemical release technology on barrel cortex sensory information processing . Paper presented at Washington, DC: society for neuroscience, 2011.
Du, Z., Luo, X., Weaver, C., & Cui, X. T. (2012, October). Unit recording capability of a pedot-il coated ultra-low impedance electrode . Abstract at Society for neuroscience, 2012, New Orleans, LA.
Du, Z. J., Simons, D. J., Bi, G. Q., & Cui, X. T. (2013, November). Precise modulation of neural network activities in barrel cortex with an electrochemically controlled drug release system . Barrels XXVI, La Jolla, California.