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Brains Behind the Institute

Raag Airan

Raag Airan

Assistant professor of radiology (neuroradiology)

When you approach someone with an off-the-wall idea at Stanford, the first thing people start talking about is whether the idea holds water.

No matter whom you’re talking with—a high school student, undergraduate, professor—everyone’s ideas are heard out and vetted to get to a positive kernel of truth. I’ve found that the campus’s layout really helps to foster this culture of scientific curiosity: Having different research hubs within walking distance has led me to serendipitous moments and ideas that cross disciplines.
As an example, while I was in medical school, my roommate studied chemistry. As part of his thesis defense, he was asked to propose an out-of-the-box idea and explain how he'd pursue it. We brainstormed and the idea we developed led to my current work: a noninvasive technique that can target drugs to specific regions in the brain. In my lab we create nanoparticles that bind a drug, such as an anesthetic, that can be administered intravenously. Then, we use ultrasound to break up the nanoparticles at a precise moment, in the target brain region, releasing the drug so that the it acts only in that region of the brain.
This technology has exciting possible applications. For instance, patients with a certain kind of epilepsy require invasive brain mapping to diagnose which sections of the brain lead to seizures. We could potentially use our technology to temporarily dampen the activity in the section of the patient's brain that the surgeon intends to operate on, to better predict what the surgery would yield. This would not only confirm that that section of the brain indeed causes the symptoms, but could also help physicians avoid damaging functions such as memory and language with a potential intervention. It would be a way to effectively simulate the effects of a neurosurgery to help patients understand more about their procedure and feel more comfortable with it.
Often, the tools we use in neuroscience can benefit from other disciplines and Stanford is a perfect places to learn from and combine those interests. Pursuing your interests and keeping an open mind to learn about these disciplines is key. You never know when the critical piece of information is going to come, or from where or whom.

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