Dr. Mandana Ahmadi, PhD, Founder and CEO of Alena

Computational neuroscience is a field that explores how the brain works using the power of mathematics and computer science, writes Dr. Mandana Ahmadi, PhD, Founder and CEO of Alena.

In simple terms, it involves creating mathematical models to understand how our brain does what it does, from a single-cell level to complex thoughts and emotions. By studying and simulating these models, scientists can gain insights into how we think, feel, and perceive the world around us and use that understanding to find solutions and treatments for brain disorders.

A marvellous complexity

Our brains are incredibly intricate and complex. It is an organ consisting of billions of neurons that interact with each other through electrical and chemical signals. These interactions form networks, allowing information to flow and giving rise to our thoughts, memories, and behaviours. Computational neuroscience aims to decipher these networks and understand how they give rise to our cognitive abilities.

To study the brain, computational neuroscientists create digital simulations using computers. These simulations mimic the behaviour of neurons and the connections between them. By programming mathematical equations that represent how neurons fire and communicate, scientists can observe how the simulated brain responds to different stimuli and tasks. These simulations help uncover the fundamental principles underlying brain function.

Understanding learning and memory

One exciting area of computational neuroscience is understanding how we learn and remember things. Scientists create models that simulate the processes of learning and memory formation. These models show how connections between neurons change, becoming stronger or weaker, as we acquire new information or skills. By studying these models, researchers gain insights into how memories are stored and retrieved.

Exploring perception and sensation

Computational neuroscience also helps us understand how we perceive and make sense of the world. For example, scientists can study how our brains process and interpret visual information by creating models that simulate the visual system. These models reveal how our brains identify objects, recognize faces, and perceive colours. Similarly, researchers can develop models to understand how we hear, taste, smell, and feel sensations.

Unravelling mental disorders

Another important application of computational neuroscience is studying mental disorders. By simulating the brain circuits or cognitive functions involved in conditions like depression, schizophrenia, or autism, scientists can gain insights into the underlying causes and potential treatments. These simulations provide a virtual platform to test different hypotheses and develop new therapeutic approaches. Alena is the first effort to bring computational neuroscience to people’s doorstep and help them with improving their mental health using this science.

Brain-machine interfaces

One particularly exciting area of computational neuroscience is the development of brain-machine interfaces (BMIs). BMIs allow us to directly connect our brains to machines, enabling control or communication without using our limbs. For example, paralyzed individuals can use BMIs to move robotic arms or type on a computer simply by thinking about it. Computational neuroscience plays a crucial role in decoding the brain signals and translating them into commands for the machines.

Artificial intelligence and neural networks

Computational neuroscience has also inspired advancements in artificial intelligence (AI). Neural networks, which are computer systems designed to mimic the brain’s structure and function, have been instrumental in AI breakthroughs. By simulating networks of artificial neurons, researchers can train these systems to recognize patterns, understand speech, or make decisions, mirroring some aspects of human cognition.

Computational neuroscience offers a fascinating window into the inner workings of the brain. By creating computer models, scientists can simulate and study how our neurons communicate, how we learn and remember, and how our senses perceive the world. This knowledge has wide-ranging applications, from improving our understanding of mental disorders to developing brain-controlled technologies. Computational neuroscience continues to unlock the mysteries of the mind, bringing us closer to understanding what makes us human and how our brains shape our experiences.