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Ziv Williams, MD

Faculty, Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology
Faculty, Harvard Medical School Program in Neuroscience
Faculty, MGH-HMS Center for Nervous System Repair

The Ziv Lab's main goal is to investigate the basic neural computations that underlie motor and cognitive behavior, and how they relate to disorders such as motor paralysis, Alzheimer’s disease and autism. The lab has four main areas of focus.

Social decision making in primates – Social interactions are unique from most other behaviors in that they involve a highly dynamic interplay between personal and group goals, and inherently require individuals to anticipate each other’s unknown intentions or covert state of mind. A major goal of the lab has been to investigate how these computations are carried out within the brain at the single-neuronal level and how to selectively modify abnormal social behavior through novel neuro-modulatory techniques.

Cognitive processing in humans – How higher executive functions are encoded in humans has remained poorly explored. The lab has developed novel methods for recording well-isolated individual neurons in frontal cortical areas of human subjects undergoing planned neurosurgical procedures. These approaches have provided an incredibly unique opportunity to study higher cognitive processes such as abstract rules in human subjects.

Neural restoration – Many neurological disorders such as motor paralysis and stroke have little or no current treatment. The lab is the first to develop a functional cortical-spinal neural prosthetic “bypass” able to restore basic volitional motor control in a fully paralyzed limb. It is also the first to create a concurrent brain-machine-interface able to simultaneously execute multiple motor plans in paralyzed subjects and to test novel deep brain stimulation approaches for treating a variety of motor disorders. Finally, they have developed advanced closed-loop recording and stimulation techniques that allow us to enhance specific cognitive functions such as learning and pro-social behavior. Their eventual goal is to translate some of these findings into eventual clinical use.

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