Alex Bae, a Princeton University electrical engineering graduate student specializing in computational neuroscience, discusses his lab’s quest to understand the complex processes of the eye in relation to mapping, processing, and sending information to the brain. Computational neuroscience is the applied study of brain function in relation to the processing properties that exist within the nervous system. It brings together many fields of study such as psychology, neuroscience, cognitive science and computer science, electrical engineering, math and physics.
Bae’s lab, the Sebastian Seung Lab, works with electromicroscopic images and AI to reconstruct cells of a brain neuron to study the connections that could lead to new discoveries in neuroscience. The Princeton University graduate student explains that due to technical limitations at this time, their study is focused primarily on mice, as a mouse’s brain has some similarities to a human brain. However, Mr. Bae’s lab’s study is focused on the retina of a mouse’s eye specifically, as the retina actually processes visual information and computes that information. Additionally, the size of the area they study is small, only a few hundred micrometers, thus the data collected is significant due to the ratio, considering the minuscule size of a mouse.
Specifically, Bae’s team studies the retinal ganglion cell (RGC), as these are the only output cells in the neuron, thus they are the only cells connected to the brain—sending visual information to the brain. The lab finds this study to be most effective in data collection as the RGCs are comprised of approximately 50 types, so it is complicated and sophisticated, yet the retinal circuit is still infinitely simpler than the brain circuit.
The Princeton graduate student discusses how his lab actually developed a game called Eyewire, a computation game with the objective of mapping retinal neurons. Upon releasing the game, Bae’s lab has been able to utilize input from over 30,000 gamers to collect the data set and further their research.
Bae’s hope is that the study of complex interior retinal cells will lead to an understanding of how the retina actually works to process visual information, and provide a glimpse into the inner-workings of the visual cortex in general.