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Research at the interface between mind and gut

Dr. Ivan de Araujo, Director of the Department Body-Brain Cybernetics at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics

Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics expands research focus and board of directors

Do our gut feelings influence our rational thinking and does the belly guide our emotions more than the brain? Can our minds in turn dictate how our organs work? As a new member of the board of directors at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics in Tübingen, Germany, Ivan de Araujo will focus on questions relating to interactions between body and mind. The scientist, who most recently worked at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, is an expert in the field of exploring the interdependencies between the psyche and physiology.

In his research, the Brazilian-born US-American neuroscientist shows how perceptions and decisions are closely linked to the digestive system. As a new scientific member of the Max Planck Society, de Araujo will now devote himself in depth to basic research in his research department of Body-Brain Cybernetics. He is currently establishing an international team of scientists from various disciplines who are working in several research groups to gain novel theoretical and experimental insights from different perspectives. This also entails investigating disorders of the psyche caused by interactions with the gastrointestinal tract.

Recent work by de Araujo has shown how a reward stimulus from the gut is reported to the brain when food is ingested, regardless of its taste – a finding that provides an important contribution to research in the field of eating disorders and obesity; in the field of human research, he will also be interested in how and why psychological states of fear, malaise, and disgust can arise, which regions of the brain are responsible for them, and how we can tap into the brain circuitries to ameliorate psychological distress.

At the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics, the department of Body-Brain Cybernetics will dive into deciphering how we could take hold of brain circuits to influence our body. This includes situations like neurodegenerative disease, when body parts don’t function appropriately due to disconnections between body and brain.

“I am delighted to work with Ivan and what he will bring to the institute, as many researchers here and at other scientific research as well as teaching institutions in Tübingen will benefit from his profound knowledge and fascinating experimental approaches. Understanding how the numerous processes in the human body are sensed and controlled by the brain and how these in turn influence neuronal processing are crucial scientific questions that are of overriding importance beyond psychiatry,” says Peter Dayan, Managing Director of the institute.

Ivan de Araujo studied philosophy at the University of Brasilia, followed by postgraduate studies in the field of AI research at the University of Edinburgh. He completed his PhD on a topic in medical physiology and imaging at the University of Oxford. As a postdoctoral researcher in neurobiology at Duke University Medical Center, he identified neural networks of the brain that interact with the digestive tract. From 2007 to 2018, he directed his own laboratory, the Neurobiology of Feeding Laboratory at Pierce Labs (Yale University), before joining the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in August 2018.