2022 Awardee: Vasileios N. Christopoulos, PhD

2022 Awardee: Vasileios N. Christopoulos, PhD


Project: Detection and characterization of motor activity in behaving infants through the use of novel ultrasonic brain imaging technology

Dr. Christopoulos is an assistant professor in the University of California Riverside (UC Riverside) department of Bioengineering and cooperating faculty in the graduate Neuroscience program. He is also a visiting associate at the division of Biology and Biological Engineering at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and an adjunct clinical assistant professor of Neurological Surgery at the Keck School of Medicine of University of Southern California (USC). Prior to joining UC Riverside, Dr. Christopoulos was a research faculty at Caltech and director of Neurotechnology at the T&C Chen Brain-Machine Interface Center at Caltech. He received his PhD in computer science, with minor in Cognitive Sciences, from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities.

His research interests focus on understanding the mechanisms of higher level cognitive functions, such as attention, action regulation and motor learning, and developing novel brain-based therapies. He has developed non-human primate (NHP) experimental models of neurological disorders associated with brain injuries (i.e., hemispatial neglect, extinction). He has also designed novel mathematical and neuro-computational theories to understand how the brain integrates value information and regulates actions in dynamic and uncertain environments, and how brain lesions affect behavior leading to neurological disorders. In recent years, he extended his research to clinical studies in patients with brain and spinal cord injuries, including intracortical brain-machine interface (BMI) technologies in individuals with severe paralysis, and functional ultrasound imaging (fUSI) in patients with brain and spinal cord disorders. He is also part of a team that showed for the first time that fUSI can detect motor preparatory activity in the monkey brain within a single trial – a breakthrough finding in Neuroscience which opens new avenues in developing ultrasonic BMI technologies. Currently, Dr. Christopoulos and his colleagues use fUSI technology to guide neuromodulation treatments for neurological and psychiatric disorders, such as chronic back pain and schizophrenia. For his work applying fUSI technology to chronic back pain patients resistant to pharmacological interventions, Dr. Christopoulos was named a Hellman Fellow 2022-2023 - an endowed program to support the research of assistant professors who show promise for great distinction in their chosen fields across each of the ten (10) University of California (UC) campuses. Overall, Dr. Christopoulos aims to establish fUSI as a promising platform for neuroscientific investigation with potential for profound clinical impact.

With funding from the C-STAR pilot project program, Dr. Christopoulos will monitor brain activity in awake and behaving infants using fUSI technology. The goal is to assess the brain mechanisms of motor control in infants and to detect potential differences in the functional organization of the motor system between full-term and at-risk (i.e., early pre-term) infants. Understanding the mechanisms of brain development and detecting abnormalities in the early stage of infancy are essential for early diagnosis of motor disabilities and design of early intervention programs. Therefore, the inclusion of both pre-term and full-term infants may reveal features in the fUSI signal that will lead to the classification and interpretation of typical and atypical motor patterns. Additionally, Dr. Christopoulos will develop machine learning algorithms to decode (i.e., predict) motor activity from the infant brain using fUSI – a prerequisite to ultrasonic BMI development for pediatric population. This work will take place at the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA) in collaboration with Dr. Jason Chu (Pediatric Neurosurgeon at CHLA), Dr. Charles Liu (Neurosurgeon, and Director of the Neurorestoration Center at USC) and Dr. Elena Kokkoni (Assistant Professor of Bioengineering department at UC Riverside).

Assistant Professor of Bioengineering, University of California, Riverside