Dr. Nitish Thakor, Conference Chair of LSGCC 2013, discusses aspects of the Conference, including the unique NeuroNight session.
IEEE tv: Please introduce yourself and explain why we’re here in Singapore?
Thakor: I am Nitish Thakor, I am a professor here at National University of Singapore, directing an institute, SINAPSE. I am also a professor of biomedical engineering at Johns Hopkins University in United States. But, here (Singapore) my main role is general conference chair for IEEE Life Sciences Grand Challenges conference. I also edit and contribute to IEEE Life Sciences newsletter.
IEEE tv: What are the goals of this Life Sciences Grand Challenges conference?
Thakor: Well, IEEE is, as you know, known worldwide as an engineering society, however, we found that there are many societies and members that are contributing, immensely, to Life Sciences. So, one of the primary goals is to present a tremendous awareness and branding for all of the engineers in Life Sciences and health and medicine. The second and just as important, goal is to identify Grand Challenges. Our national academy of engineering in the US identified 12 grand challenges: they have a very powerful, stimulating effect. For example, one of them is reverse-engineering the brain. Similarly, if IEEE takes the leadership in identifying what are major challenges, then I think we can influence and make an impact to society’s direct scientific research, as well as engage young people.
IEEE tv: Why was Singapore chosen as the site for this conference?
Thakor: That’s a very good question. The first meeting was in Washington DC, and it mostly drew leadership in the scientific funding communities in the United States. However, as you know, the world has shrunk, it’s a global world, so our goal was to influence, and, in fact, the rest of the world… starting with Asia. Singapore is one of those dynamic city/countries that has a tremendous economy, scientific commitment, industrial commitment, excellent growth potential… it’s a highly educated society, plus it is very nicely located within Asia. So the idea was to bring this conference, its leadership its innovation to Asia, and perhaps globally. In fact, if I might add, our speakers come from Asia, some local, others from New Zealand and Australia, and several from Europe. We have truly made an international meeting here.
IEEE tv: “Neuro Night” was an innovation in this conference, what was the inspiration for this unique event?
Thakor: Well, again, that’s a very good question. You know, we have really differentiated ourselves. Let me just give as a backdrop the fact that we might be living in the one of the great eras of scientific brain research. President Obama, just in the latest State of the Union address, mentioned human brain mapping as a major initiative, and committed hundreds of millions of dollars. The European Union has similarly taken a major initiative. So it seems brain is it. This is the time to think about brain, brain research, technology and its translation for clinical and society impact. So, our idea was to focus attention to that. Now we are, scientifically a little bit greedy and we had a packed program on many topics, so we added this Neuro Night. It was a 3-hour late night session with very die hard neuroscientists and engineers and audience. We had wonderful presentations that range from reverse engineering the brain, from cellular level, to brain/machine interface, to brain mapping and cognitive functions, and neuro technologies for implantable prosthetics and restoring sensory function. So, we covered, I believe, the topics of technology as well as mapping the human brain, if you like… and it highlights for us, why brain is, in a sense, the last frontier.