Noninvasive Control of the Nervous System

We develop new techniques for interacting with and manipulating the nervous system, to better understand it, and to develop new treatment strategies.



Designing ultrasound strategies to better see and manipulate the brain and the body.
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Inventing ultrasound-sensitive nanoparticles to deliver the right drug, to the right part of the body, at the right time.
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Developing and clinically translating novel tools to image and intervene at the molecular level in vivo.
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Using imaging and intervention to understand how the nervous system governs behavior.
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Congratulations to Ananya Karthik!

Congratulations to our high school student Ananya Karthik, who was selected as a Regeneron Science Talent Search finalist as one of the top 40 out of almost 2,000 students! Ananya has been working on the synthesis and characterization of our nanoparticles for noninvasive ultrasonic drug uncaging.

The Regeneron Science Talent Search is the nation’s oldest and most prestigious science and math competition for high school seniors. As part of being a finalist, Ananya has earned a $25,000 prize and is in the running for the grand prize pf $250,000!! Ananya Karthik joins the ranks of 13 Nobel prize winners, 18 MacArthur Foundation Fellows and many other distinguished alumni of the Science Talent Search. We’re proud to have worked with Ananya, and we wish her best of luck in this final stage of the competition. For more information about the competition, please visit here.

New Publication in Neuron!

rat_net_thumbOur lab’s publication entitled “Noninvasive Ultrasonic Drug Uncaging” is now published in Neuron and available here. Congrats to the authors!

This work demonstrates that nanoparticle-mediated ultrasonic drug uncaging noninvasively modulates brain activity with precision determined by the ultrasound focus extent and the kinetics of the uncaged drug. By uncaging the anesthetic propofol in the visual cortex, we can reversibly silence visually evoked potentials, with onset and recovery of our effect happening in seconds. Furthermore, with [18-F] FDG PET, we show that our effect is limited to the sonication focus on the millimeter scale. Finally, by performing a global analysis of all of our PET images, we demonstrate that we can causatively map functional connectivity in the brain.

You can read more about our work either in Stanford’s press release or in the media!

Welcome to James Bishop PhD, SMIS Postdoctoral Fellow

A hearty Airan Lab welcome to James Bishop PhD, who is joining the lab as part of his prestigious Stanford Molecular Imaging Scholars fellowship. James has in depth interest in solving the debilitating condition of chronic pain. He joins us after completing initial postdoctoral training with friends-of-the-lab and collaborators Nolan Williams MD and David Spiegel MD in Stanford Psychiatry, working to treat patients suffering from chronic pain using TMS. James did his undergraduate studies at Virginia Tech before working as a research assistant at Harvard for several years, where he used a variety of cutting-edge techniques including optogenetics and advanced functional MRI methods to study pain both in animal models and clinical populations. He then completed his PhD training with Magdalena Naylor MD PhD & Helene Langevin MD at the University of Vermont, using neuroimaging to study chronic pain in human subjects. In our group, he will work with us, Michelle James PhD, and Sandip Biswal MD to use ultrasonic drug uncaging to modulate pain responses, and image the resultant effects using novel PET tracers for pain imaging, in animal models of chronic pain secondary to cancer.

Congratulations to Jeffrey Wang for getting accepted into the Mind, Brain, Computation and Technology graduate training program!

Dr. Jeffrey Wang has been accepted into the Mind, Brain, Computation and Technology graduate training program where he will be expected to engage as a contributing member of the community, attend center seminars and the annual trainee meetings, present his work to the community, and to take an active role in assisting with ongoing center events, or in developing new ways to strengthen and enrich the community.

For this program, Jeff had to pass through a competitive application process that involved essentially having to complete a second qualifying examination to demonstrate his knowledge and aptitude regarding quantitative techniques, and to defend his thesis proposal on defining a spatiotemporally resolved model for the physiological action of ketamine using ultrasonic drug uncaging. Congratulations, Jeffrey!

Collaboration with the NIH Nanoparticle Characterization Lab

In April 2018, the NIH/NCI Nanoparticle Characterization Laboratory (NCL) accepted our propofol-loaded polymeric perfluorocarbon nanoemulsions into their characterization and testing program, which is designed to promote the clinical translation of novel nanomedicines. These propofol-loaded nanoparticles  will now undergo their rigorous in vitro and in vivo evaluation. If these particles pass the NCL assays with acceptable results, we plan to apply for an investigatory license from the FDA for first-in-human trials to complete noninvasive functional brain mapping as part of neurologic and neurosurgical evaluations.



New bioRxiv preprint on a nanoparticle platform for ultrasonic drug uncaging

Congrats Qian and Jason! Their manuscript entitled “Polymeric perfluorocarbon nanoemulsions are ultrasound-activated wireless drug infusion catheters” is currently available on the preprint server bioRxiv at

This work developed polymeric perfluoropentane nanoemulsion as a generalized platform for localized ultrasonic drug delivery. They showed that this nanotechnology platform can be used to encapsulate most hydrophobic drugs. The nanoemulsions have shown excellent ultrasound responsiveness and bioeffects for a wide variety of drugs, and demonstrated a stability that yields high potential for clinical translation for noninvasive ultrasonic drug uncaging in the brain and body.

Raag Received an ASCI 2018 Young Physician-Scientist Award!

Dr. Raag Airan, an Assistant Professor of Radiology (Neuroradiology), has received the American Society for Clinical Investigation 2018 Young Physician-Scientist Award. He will present his research at the AAP/ASCI/APSA Joint Meeting in Chicago, Illinois, April 20-22.

The ASCI Council Young Physician-Scientist Award recognizes physician-scientists who are early in their first faculty appointment and have made notable achievements in their research. With these awards, the ASCI seeks to encourage and inspire these physician-scientists through their participation in the Joint Meeting.

Congratulations, Dr. Airan!

Congratulations to Muna for winning a prestigious Stanford SCIT fellowship!

Dr. Muna Aryal has been named as a recipient of a Stanford SCIT fellowship! This is a prestigious training program for postdoctoral fellows working on novel and interdisciplinary solutions for cancer imaging. For her project, Muna will work collaboratively between the Dahl and Airan labs to develop a fusion of focused ultrasound, passive acoustic imaging (PAI), and PET imaging to determine a method to calibrate the degree of in vivo ultrasonic drug uncaging using nanodroplets. She will then apply this method in a large animal model, as a prerequisite to clinical translation. This work will build on her already amazing work on quantifying the efficacy of ultrasonic drug uncaging in small animals, and her PhD thesis work on ultrasound-mediated blood brain barrier opening for drug delivery.

Congratulations Muna!!

More information can be found here:

Our work on ultrasonic neuromodulation was just profiled in Nature!

Our work on using ultrasonic drug uncaging to enable neuromodulation was just profiled in Nature.

Check it out!


Raag is the Finalist for the Science-PINS Prize for Neuromodulation!!

Some of our work on noninvasive neuromodulation and our nanoparticles was just featured in Science. You can read the article here. For this essay, Raag was awarded as the Finalist for the Science and PINS prize for neuromodulation.

Raag will soon head to Beijing and Jinan in China to receive this prize and present at Tsinghua University and the 8th Neuromodulation Congress.

Congratulations Raag!