Dr. Gradinaru’s research group at Caltech specializes in developing neuroscience tools and methods, including engineering of new viral vectors with optimized brain tropism after systemic delivery. In addition to developing technologies for neuroscience, Gradinaru has also been using such tools and methods to dissect circuitry underlying movement, mood, and sleep disorders. The Gradinaru group at Caltech has recently developed and disseminated various new tools for less invasive gene delivery and optogenetics to the brain. With collaborators and her own Caltech group, Gradinaru is now applying these gene delivery tools to neurodevelopmental and neurodegenerative disorders.
As an Innovation Fund investigator, Gradinaru is collaborating with the lab of Mark Andermann, Ph.D., to investigate how the brain’s insular cortex perceives bodily signals from internal organs. Sensation and awareness of one’s condition (e.g., pain, itch, or heartbeat) are important for the brain to coordinate the right responses to ensure well-being and survival. Combining their expertise in neuroscience, imaging, and molecular methodologies, the team aims to map the responses of the insular cortex to signals (e.g., those that vary with hunger versus fullness) from various parts of the gastrointestinal tract in mice. This work could aid in better understanding how this sensory system relays information from the body to the brain, and how the insular cortex helps to promote survival.