Yuri Dabaghian, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Department of Pediatrics, Baylor College of Medicine, and the Jan and Dan Duncan Neurological Research Institute at Texas Children's HospitalAssistant Professor, Department of Computation and Applied Mathematics, Rice University
Research focus: Modeling spatial learning and memory in the hippocampus and in the parietal cortex
Moving through space is one of the fundamental tasks of an organism: evading predators, procuring food, finding a safe spot to nap in the sun. We take these activities for granted—until a movement disorder makes our hand continually overshoot the pencil it tries to grasp, or an elderly relative gets lost a block away from the home where he has lived for the past 20 years.
“Space" encompasses a number of concepts: spatial order and connectivity, scale, size and shape, arc and direction, spatial perspective and spatial curvature, among others, which must all be brought together to produce a coherent, navigable map of the environment. From the biological perspective, all these constructs must be somehow represented in the brain, within neurons or neural networks. Spatial perception, indeed, is so fundamental to life that its functions are distributed all over the brain: different aspects of spatial representation are encoded in different brain areas, and most brain areas are involved in representing spatial information.
Dr. Dabaghian draws from his doctoral training in theoretical and mathematical physics to develop theoretical models and experimental approaches for investigating how the brain can consistently and rapidly assemble and modify various spatial "maps" into a fully integrated representation of the environment at various levels of spatial awareness. His work currently focuses on modeling spatial learning and memory in the hippocampus and in the parietal cortex. He is also collaborating with Microsoft to develop a virtual reality-based, noninvasive diagnostic tool to identify spatial deficits early in the development of physiological dysfunction caused by, for example, Alzheimer’s disease or brain tumors.