TCCI® Opens First “Chen Frontier Lab for Brain Research” in Shanghai

On October 23, 2020, Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Institute (TCCI®)’s first Frontier Lab for Brain Research was put into operation at Shanghai Huashan Hospital Hongqiao Campus, a large-scale neuroscience medical center. The new lab works on multiple fields of research, including the brain-machine interface, sleep and dreams, cognitive assessment, and digital medicine. It prioritizes the collaboration across disciplines and translation fundamental research discoveries into practical products and application as its core.


Tianqiao Chen, Founder of TCCI®, spoke at the inauguration ceremony saying that the Chen Frontier Laboratory is an important platform for TCCI’s brain science research, and a major step for TCCI’s RMB 500 million donation supporting brain science research in China after its $115 million donation to Caltech. The lab offers different types of support to address specific challenges for each stage of research and is open to all scientists in China and abroad. It provides comprehensive resources including funding, equipment and clinics, and strives to achieve accomplishments in four dimensions: scientific research, talent development, standards formulation and industry research. The lab focuses on supporting two types of projects in particular: cutting-edge research and translational research. Cutting-edge research gives scientists complete academic freedom and focuses on pioneering research on a global scale, such as brain-machine interfaces, memory storage, artificial intelligence, and dream control. A recent example of translational research is the use of digital methods to improve the level of cognition in the brain.


According to Professor Ying Mao, Director of TCCI® for Translational Research and President of Huashan Hospital, this lab will become an important base for innovative clinical research as well as for the incubation and transformation of research results. He revealed that Huashan Hospital will collaborate with TCCI® to open the first cognitive assessment center in China. The research teams of the assessment center, neurosurgery department, and sleep center will be the first to join the lab. Together they will explore the application of brain-machine interfaces, online software and other new technologies to assess and treat cognition levels, sleep disorder and other issues. Professor Chunbo Li, Vice President of Shanghai Mental Health Center, said that the hospital is also actively promoting the research and development of online depression screening in the lab.


At the inauguration ceremony of the laboratory, a number of well-known overseas experts were invited to share the latest findings of international brain science research.


Professor Edward Chang, Director of the Center for Neural Engineering at UC San Francisco – one of the world’s leading medical schools – presented the latest findings in “mind reading.” The technology involves an implantable brain-machine interface electrode to decode language signals and the decoding speed has reached the average speaking rate with an accuracy rate of 97%. Also from UCSF, Professor Adam Gazzaley, a Chen Frontier Lab advisor, is known as the world’s first person to tackle brain diseases with digital technology. He explained how a game he created that is used for treating children with ADHD was the first in the world to obtain FDA approval in the US. Professor Pattie Maes, Chair of the Executive Committee at MIT Media Lab showed research into using smell to control dreams. In other words, Inception is not just science fiction now. Dr. Corey McCan, CEO of Pear Therapeutics, a global leader in digital therapy which has received multiple FDA approvals, highlighted the significant role of digital therapy in treating anxiety and other mental illness.


Later at the ceremony, TCCI® for Translational Research demonstrated a number of scientific achievements in China.


A small white mouse has an ultra-thin, super-flexible, high-throughput neural signal acquisition chip implanted in its brain that can hardly be felt by neurons. When the mouse ate food and moved, the real-time changes of its brain electrodes immediately appeared on a computer that is directly connected to the neural signal processing interface circuit. Heavily funded by TCCI® and relevant organizations, this product is called China’s answer to Neuralink. It is a joint endeavor of Professor Hu Tao and his team from SIMIT of Chinese Academy of Science as well as the neurosurgery team of Huashan Hospital. Professor Tao said that this project was completely and independently developed by the Chinese scientific research team, and is in preparation for clinical trials. It will soon be first used in neurosurgery as a great tool with higher precision for brain function positioning. He also disclosed that the electrode uses a unique flexible Chinese material – fibroin, which is not only safer for the human body, but can also fit the brain surface better to improve the accuracy of electrical signal recording.


In the sleep and dream lab, a young man fully covered with electrodes and wires lies on a monitored bed. These polysomnography devices are traditional tools used for sleep tracking and diagnosis. On the other side, in contrast, a young woman applied a thin electrode sticker on her head, which is able to offer real-time monitoring of her brain electricity, respiration, heartbeat and other indicators during sleep. Associate Professor Huan Yu, TCCI® researcher and Director of Sleep Center at Fudan University, told the audience that TCCI® is committed to the development of portable home-use sleep devices. The new devices integrate digital interventions such as white noise and smell to improve the sleep quality of healthy people. China’s famous cloud computing company UCloud supported the research by providing AI analysis of the monitored sleep data.


In the cognitive assessment lab, five subjects were watching a video together wearing EEG devices. In the beginning, the electrical activities of their brains were very different. When the video showed irritating content, however, their brain activities became highly consistent, which all indicated maximum attention and negative emotions. When pleasing scenes appeared on the screen, a peak level of attention and positive emotions were detected. Professor Zhi Yang from the Shanghai Mental Health Center, also a TCCI® researcher, said that this TCCI®-supported research is dedicated to learning the effects of videos, games, music and various digital products on human cognition and emotions, and has so far achieved satisfactory results. It was announced at the event that TCCI® and Tencent are going to work together to conduct research on the impact and enhancement of games on brain cognition.


Cognitive disorders in elderly adults is an increasingly problematic societal issue. Early detection and prevention remains the most effective approach to solving it. Targeting the pain points of traditional evaluation, it being boring and time-consuming, TCCI® has been funding research into using VR games to screen for Alzheimer’s and has achieved great results. It has reached in-depth cooperation with Shengqu Games with the goal of becoming the first games in China to obtain a digital medicine certificate. Yanyan Huang, TCCI® researcher from Huashan Hospital demonstrated a new game at the VR and motion capture Lab. In the game, seniors are asked to complete tasks such as shopping, ordering food, finding people in daily life scenes like supermarkets, restaurants, and buildings. The game then conducts comprehensive analysis of the speed, accuracy and walking route of the player’s performance to screen for Alzheimer’s. Well received by hundreds of senior players, the game has achieved pleasing results.


TCCI® has also funded a project that researches smell and emotion. Professor Leihong Xiang from Huashan Hospital said that the research team had studied hundreds of EEG surveys and scaling data of people experiencing different smells. The study has revealed a basic neuroscientific relationship between smell and emotion.


Different from a traditional lab, the design TCCI’s Frontier Laboratory for Brain Research is novel, experimental, futuristic and warm-hearted, embodying the concept of “warm technology.” TCCI® will continue to invest in cutting-edge technology, global resource integration, and industrial transformation as its key areas of development, and make its own contribution to the exploration of the mysteries of human brains.