Jose Herrero, PhD, a research scientist at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research and North Shore University Hospital, was selected to receive the prestigious Francisco J. Varela grant award from the Mind & Life Institute. The $11,000 research grant will used to support Dr. Herrero’s study of the neural circuits underlying deep-slow breathing (DSB) and its effects on patients with epilepsy.
To qualify for the Varela Award, Dr. Herrero submitted his research proposal entitled, “Intracranial Circuits Underlying Deep Slow Breathing and Its Palliative Effects.” Study participants will include epilepsy patients trained to perform DSB under a state of effortless relaxation. Dr. Herrero and his team will determine if DSB can have a positive “calming” effect on patients who have drug-resistant epilepsy. In addition, DSB will be used post-operatively in epilepsy patients who have received surgery and determine if DSB can help to reduce pain resulting from the surgery.
“It is known that our thoughts can change our breathing,” said Dr. Herrero. “However, how our breathing can change our thoughts is less clear. In daily encounters, we experience breathing changes as result of our restless, wondering thoughts. Interestingly, we can use our breathing awareness in our favour to regulate our thoughts and make wiser decisions. Our research is the first step to uncover the neuronal mechanisms of breathing, particularly the cortical and limbic circuits that are involved in breathing and how directing attention to the breathing itself changes brain excitability in those circuits. We choose epileptic patients to conduct this study because the abnormal neuronal interactions between brain networks are a hallmark in epilepsy.”
The Varela Awards, established in 2004, is an important and integral component of Mind & Life’s support of contemplative scientists and scholars. The award is named after the neuroscientist and philosopher Francisco J. Varela and supports his belief of how contemplative training can have a positive effect on modern science novel methods, reduce human suffering and improve well-being. The Varela awards support new research proposals that will further help our understanding of the mind and human behavior.
In the study, Dr. Herrero will use DSB, a technique which has been shown to reduce hypertension, in order to prevent the abnormal network hyperexcitability associated to epileptic seizures. As part of the study, Dr. Herrero will utilize biofeedback devices to monitor breathing and heart rate. In addition, he will investigate the use of DSB apps in epilepsy patients who cannot do DSB on their own to see if app-based technology can help improve relaxation and better sleep.
“It is our hope through this additional research that we will be able to prove how brain network interactions can be strongly modulated by breathing patterns, leading to a better quality of life for patients with epilepsy,” added Dr. Herrero.
About the Feinstein Institute
The Feinstein Institute for Medical Research is the research arm of Northwell Health, the largest healthcare provider in New York. Home to 50 research laboratories and to clinical research throughout dozens of hospitals and outpatient facilities, the Feinstein Institute includes 4,000 researchers and staff who are making breakthroughs in molecular medicine, genetics, oncology, brain research, mental health, autoimmunity, and bioelectronic medicine – a new field of science that has the potential to revolutionize medicine. For more information about how we empower imagination and pioneer discovery, visit FeinsteinInstitute.org