Stephen LaConte chosen to represent the U.S. at a prestigious scientific symposium in China

Stephen LaConte sitting at a desk in front of a laptop

Virginia Tech

Stephen LaConte, an assistant professor at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, was one of just eight U.S. scientists selected to speak at a prestigious Kavli Frontiers of Science symposium held in Shenzhen, China, on November 5–7.

The 14th Annual Chinese-American Symposium, co-organized by the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, covered topics ranging from environmental nanomaterials to collisions in the solar system. Each topic had one speaker from China and one speaker from the United States. LaConte was chosen as the U.S. scientist to discuss brain–computer interaction.

One feature of LaConte’s talk was an innovation of his own making: a real-time approach to functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) that he has dubbed temporally adaptive brain state, or TABS. With this approach, he uses fMRI data not just to map the brain, but also to decode what the brain is doing mid-thought.

“If you can decode what the brain is sensing, doing, or thinking as you’re collecting the images,” LaConte said, “then you have a powerful tool for adapting fMRI experiments in flight.” This real-time fMRI approach has an array of potential applications for treating neurological and psychiatric disorders.

“Real-time, fMRI-based neurofeedback is an exciting frontier in medical imaging,” LaConte said. “The brain is primed to ‘learn’ from sensory input. So if we can give it input about itself in real time, we may be able to harness its own plasticity to help it heal.”