“Science Meets Music” Features Breakthroughs in Mental Health Technology

February 7, 2024

Mental health diagnosis and treatment could get a big boost from innovative technology being developed at Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience labs. Neuroscientist Dr. Lin Tian shared her exciting research with an audience of nearly 500 on Wednesday, January 31, as part of MPFI’s Science Meets Music series.

Dr. Tian, who joined MPFI in October as the institute’s third scientific director, is an internationally recognized scientist who works to develop specialized biosensors that can measure neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin in real-time.

In her talk, Dr. Tian shared how understanding the chemicals that underlie mental states can help improve diagnosis of depression and lead to more effective treatments. “If we think of the brain’s activity as music or a symphony, the specialized organization of a neuromodulatory system can influence the brain’s music by controlling dopamine’s release patterns in time and space,” she said. “Just as a master conductor can make a difference between a ‘just okay’ performance and a breathtaking symphony, the delicate control of this neuromodulator allows us to experience a full range of human emotions, coordinating our emotions and behavior into a cohesive experience.”

Dr. Tian, who joined MPFI from the University of California Davis, also described how her lab is testing fast-acting treatments that could dramatically improve symptoms of depression. Using a method of drug screening described as a “chemical scaffold,” she described her lab’s approach to rapidly screening potential psychedelic medications while using biosensors to determine which new compounds could potentially provide efficient relief without detrimental side effects such as hallucinations.

“As you can imagine, we’ll have a very large dataset, and this is really important for developing computational models to achieve a competitive understanding of our emotions, as well as to link the patterns of neuroactivity to the psychological definition of emotion,” she said. “This way, we can be more precise with our diagnosis and develop more personalized treatments for depression.”

The evening also featured performances from Palm Beach Symphony musicians Dr. Emilio Rutllant on flute and Marti Moreland on harp. The duo gave moving performances of works from composers Jacques Ibert, Claude Debussy, Louis Anthony deLise, Henriette Renié, and Johannes Donjon.

Science Meets Music is hosted by MPFI and held three times a year at Benjamin High School in Palm Beach Gardens. The next event is February 21, 2024, and will feature Dr. Vidhya Rangaraju giving a talk entitled “How are Memories Powered?” Accompanying her will be pianist Madison Yan. The event is free and open to the public; advanced registration is required and can be completed at mpfi.org/smm. The Science Meets Music programs are generously sponsored by the Honorable David Fischer & Mrs. Jennifer Fischer.

To donate to MPFI’s curiosity-driven research and scientific training programs, visit mpfi.org/donate.

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