Brain Stimulation Targets Key Networks for Enhanced Cognitive & Physical Health

Non-invasive stimulation of brain networks may pave the way for advances in fall prevention, rehabilitation strategies, and Alzheimer’s treatment.

On-Yee Lo, PhD, assistant scientist II at the Hinda and Arthur Marcus Institute for Aging Research at Hebrew SeniorLife and instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, is among the awardees of the 2023 Healthy Longevity Catalyst Awards by the National Academy of Medicine together with eight global collaborators representing over 50 countries and territories.

Lo, the principal investigator, and her colleagues were honored for the work with brain stimulation targeting shared networks to improve physical and cognitive functions in older adults. Joining her in this effort are Brad Manor, PhD, Marcus Institute and Harvard Medical School; Michael Esterman, PhD, VA Boston Healthcare System; and Giulio Ruffini, PhD, Neuroelectrics. 

“Healthy longevity is such an important global issue and I feel privileged that I can work on contributing this topic on a daily basis,” she said.

About the Project

Promotion of physical and cognitive function is critical to maximizing healthspan. Mounting evidence indicates that physical and cognitive functions are closely dependent upon one another; and most of the time, these physical and cognitive functions are linked to the brain functions. Emerging work revealed that the ability to remain stable while walking and the ability to remain focused while engaging in a goal-oriented task, along with numerous age-related disorders, are linked to a unique antagonistic relationship between two brain networks, named the dorsal attention network and the default network. 

The purposes of this project are to develop a personalized non-invasive brain stimulation aimed to optimize the inter-network connectivity and communication, and to examine the effects of this novel, network-based brain stimulation on resting-state functional connectivity, walking, and attention performances. This proof-of-concept project is expected to demonstrate direct cause-effect evidence that the nature of between-network connectivity can be modulated. By linking the changes in the brain to changes in physical and cognitive behaviors, we are hopeful that this work will improve understanding of the cortical regulations of gait and attention and provide initial, immediate evidence that this characteristic of functional connectivity may serve as a target for fall prevention, rehabilitation, and other behaviors and diseases (e.g., Alzheimer’s disease) that are known to be dependent upon the modularity of the dorsal attention network and the default network. If proven successful, this approach through modulating other brain network communication promises to have a tremendous application to numerous age-related syndromes and diseases.

About The Awards

These awards are part of the National Academy of Medicine’s Healthy Longevity Global Competition, focused on helping accelerate research and entrepreneurism to foster potential breakthroughs in healthy longevity. This multiyear, multiphase international competition is designed with the aim to help advance bold, novel ideas with the potential to dramatically improve health as people age. The global competition consists of three progressive phases during which innovators have the opportunity to compete for increasingly larger awards at the Catalyst, Accelerator, and Grand Prize levels—awards worth up to $5 million USD.

In the 2023 cycle of the Catalyst Awards, innovators around the world submitted more than 1,100 applications. The Catalyst Phase calls on teams and individuals from any background—science, medicine, and health to technology, finance, social sciences, and beyond—to submit innovative ideas with the goal of extending the human healthspan. Applications are judged primarily on novelty and innovation.

The National Academy of Medicine founded the competition and coordinates a network of global collaborators, each administering a competition in their respective country or region. In parallel, the Academy also administers a U.S.-based Catalyst Award competition, for which over 500 innovators submitted applications in 2023. Twenty submissions received Catalyst Awards from the NAM.  Each awardee will receive $50,000 as seed funding to help advance their ideas.

Summaries of all awarded ideas are available at

About Hebrew SeniorLife
Hebrew SeniorLife, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School, is a national senior services leader uniquely dedicated to rethinking, researching, and redefining the possibilities of aging. Hebrew SeniorLife cares for more than 4,500 seniors a day across six campuses throughout Greater Boston. Locations include: Hebrew Rehabilitation Center-Boston and Hebrew Rehabilitation Center-NewBridge in Dedham; NewBridge on the Charles, Dedham; Orchard Cove, Canton; Simon C. Fireman Community, Randolph; Center Communities of Brookline, Brookline; and Jack Satter House, Revere. Founded in 1903, Hebrew SeniorLife also conducts influential research into aging at the Hinda and Arthur Marcus Institute for Aging Research, which has a portfolio of more than $85 million, making it one of the largest gerontological research facilities in the U.S. in a clinical setting. It also trains more than 1,000 geriatric care providers each year. For more information about Hebrew SeniorLife, visit our website or follow us on our blog, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

About the Hinda and Arthur Marcus Institute for Aging Research
Scientists at the Marcus Institute seek to transform the human experience of aging by conducting research that will ensure a life of health, dignity, and productivity into advanced age. The Marcus Institute carries out rigorous studies that discover the mechanisms of age-related disease and disability; lead to the prevention, treatment, and cure of disease; advance the standard of care for older people; and inform public decision-making.