Georgia Tech Professor Chris Rozell recently traveled to Washington, D.C. to present his groundbreaking research on treatment-resistant depression to Congress. There, Rozell shared insights on the impact of 10 years of the NIH BRAIN Initiative — and share with local representatives how Georgia Tech is playing a key role in leading the charge.

For the past 10 years, the National Institutes of Health have led an unprecedented effort to revolutionize our understanding of the human brain. The aptly named BRAIN (Brain Research Through Advancing Neurotechnologies) Initiative has led to remarkable technological advancements, insights into the structure and function of the brain, and budding therapies. 

Recently, School of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) Professor Chris Rozell traveled to Washington, D.C. to share the impact of his BRAIN Initiative research with U.S. Congressional offices — and offer insights on how critical this program is to society. The briefing took on a particular urgency because BRAIN Initiative funding was cut over 40% this year, and future funding appears to be in jeopardy in the current federal budget climate. 

“The millions of patients suffering with intractable neurologic disorders and mental illness deserve a moonshot to develop new solutions for their conditions,” said Rozell, who also holds the Julian T. Hightower Chair in ECE and serves on the executive committee for Georgia Tech’s Neuro Next Initiative. “You can't get to the moon with a paper plane, and you can’t get there without a map. The BRAIN Initiative is a vital program because it's one of the few places that brings together interdisciplinary teams that include the scientists who have been building maps of brain circuits and the engineers who have been building rockets to understand and intervene with those circuits. 

“I'm proud to have had the chance to represent not only our own research, but the incredible community here at Georgia Tech and around the country working to understand many different aspects of the brain, developing new neurotechnologies, and advancing therapies for neurologic disorders.” 

Interdisciplinary impacts 

“The main message we presented to Congress is that the interdisciplinary combination of rigorous science and technical innovation can have enormous societal impact over the next few decades,” said Rozell. 

A stark example of that impact was published in Nature this past fall. In this research, Rozell and his collaborators at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and Emory University School of Medicine identified the first known biomarker of disease recovery with deep brain stimulation in treatment-resistant depression. 

“The fact that an engineer can advance clinical therapies is a testament to the new era we're in,” says Rozell, “where disciplinary boundaries are fading, and technological innovation accelerates our scientific and translational breakthroughs.” 

This research served as a focal point of the congressional briefing, where Rozell presented with BRAIN Initiative Director John J. Ngai, clinical collaborators, and a family whose lives have been transformed by this work.  

“Events like last week are dream come true,” shared Jon Nelson, who was treated with deep brain stimulation as part of the study and presented with Rozell in D.C. After living through 10 years of debilitating, treatment-resistant depression, Nelson says “remission of depression still doesn't feel real. It's been a year and a half, and I still am in awe every single day. 

“The fact that I have come out of this study and found that the disease is purely an electrical deficiency in my brain has fueled me to completely pulverize the stigma of mental illness,” Nelson explained. “When you have an opportunity to go speak to Congress — that’s about as great of a platform as you can get for that. Being able to put a face to what the BRAIN Initiative funding can do for people was just amazing.” 

When meeting with local representatives, Rozell also relayed his work as co-executive leader of the Neuro Next Initiative, a budding Interdisciplinary Research Institute at Georgia Tech. 

“I was thrilled to highlight that Georgia Tech is leading the charge with the Neuro Next Initiative, which will evolve into a full Interdisciplinary Research Institute in 2025,” said Rozell. “Georgia Tech has the ingredients to become a leading center for modern technology-driven interdisciplinary brain research and workforce development. 

“This visit was a reminder to me that research funding is not guaranteed and it’s important to keep communicating the critical value that research plays in advancing our understanding, training our workforce, fueling our economy, and ultimately making a better tomorrow for society.” 

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Rozell presented to members of U.S. Congress as well as local representatives during his visit.
Georgia Tech Engineering Professor Chris Rozell shared his research and the impacts of the past decade of brain research funded by the NIH BRAIN Initiative with Congress.