Section: Overall Objectives


The main objective of Athena is to develop rigorous mathematical models and computational tools for analyzing and modeling the complex Central Nervous System (brain and spinal cord) anatomy and function. These models and tools will help to better understand the architecture and the functioning of human Central Nervous System (CNS) and address pressing and challenging clinical and neuroscience questions. Exploring new directions to solve these challenging problems will push forward the state-of-the-art in Structural and Functional Computational Imaging of the CNS.

The relationship between CNS structure and function is fundamental in neuroscience. Developing computational models and techniques that recover the structural connectivity and the function of the CNS in vivo is thus of utmost importance: it will definitely improve the understanding of the CNS and its mechanisms. On the basis of our expertise and contributions to the field of Computational Imaging of the CNS and in order to have an impact on this field, our research focusses mainly on the Structural and Functional Imaging of the CNS with a particular emphasis on signal and image recording from Diffusion Magnetic Resonance Imaging (dMRI), Magneto-Encephalography (MEG) and Electro-Encephalography (EEG).

In order to further increase the impact of our research, we also aim to push our contributions towards some applications related to CNS diseases with characteristic abnormalities in the micro-structure of brain tissues that are not apparent and cannot be revealed reliably by standard imaging techniques. Diffusion MRI, a recent imaging modality based on the measurement of the random thermal movement (diffusion) of water molecules within samples can make visible these co-lateral damages to the fibers of the CNS white matter that connect different brain regions. This is why in our research, Diffusion MRI is the structural imaging modality that will be considered to recover the CNS connectivity.

Connectivity represents the network infrastructure of the CNS. Electric activity corresponds to communications over this network. MEG and EEG (jointly as M/EEG) reveal part of the cortical electric activity. M/EEG are also instrumental in diagnosing diseases linked to anomalous brain function - that in some cases structural or functional MR images do not reveal. In some CNS injuries (medullar injuries, strokes, AMS), the peripheral nervous system may not be able to execute commands that are issued by the brain.

Brain Computer Interfaces (BCI) use EEG, and translate in real-time the electrical activity of the brain in commands to control devices. While BCI is advocated as a means to communicate and help restore mobility or autonomy for very severe cases of disabled patients, it is also a new tool for interactively probing and training the human brain.

These considerations support the need to do research on new models and computational tools to analyse CNS signals and imaging data. Our main objective is to push forward the state-of-the-art in our research domain to better understand the architecture and function of the CNS and help address pressing and challenging clinical and neuroscience questions. This better understanding of the CNS will help the development of new biomarkers related to the progression of certain types of neurodegenerative diseases and will also help improving BCI systems with the goal of better interactive probing and training of the human brain. These long term and ambitious applications, if successful, will help us make true our dream to effectively contribute reducing the number of people suffering from CNS diseases.

In order to tackle these challenging objectives, our strategy is based on the following road map:

  • Develop rigorous mathematical and computational tools for the analysis and interpretation of Diffusion MRI and M/EEG data.

  • Improve acquisition and processing techniques and push forward the state-of-the-art in Computational CNS imaging.

  • Use our expertise to address with collaborators clinical and neuroscience questions.

This is implemented through:

  • Publications in international conferences and journals dedicated to promoting advances in computational methods for Diffusion MRI and M/EEG analysis and/or use of Diffusion MRI and M/EEG in clinical and neuroscience applications.

  • A dense network of collaborations with national as well as international neuroimaging laboratories through which we have access equipment and data and with whom we will jointly contribute to solve common crucial problems of interest.

  • Software packages developed to be used in a first stage by our national and international collaborators and then made available to other partners.