The Autonomic Nervous System

Autonomic nervous system

Our lab focuses on understanding how the brain interacts with the rest of the body through the autonomic nervous system (ANS). As the body’s hidden control system, the ANS is responsible for everything we do not consciously think about, from heartbeats to breathing to digestion to sweating and much more. Because of this, it plays a role in almost every normal and pathological function we have (see the word cloud below for some examples!). It also presents a very rich and understudied testbed to characterize how different parts of the body communicate with each other in health and disease, to track in detail how an individual’s body functions, and to explore creative opportunities to intervene for both localized and global effects.

Autonomic nervous system word cloud

Our Unique Approach

We believe that monitoring and modeling the ANS can have a huge impact on patient care across a wide array of applications, from shedding light on underlying physiology to providing clinical decision support tools based on an individual’s physiology to personalized advance prediction and closed-loop therapeutic delivery algorithms. We aim to work along all points of this continuum. We also take a unique approach to interdisciplinary research in that we run our own clinical studies to collect data from patients. Below are a few examples of the directions we aim to pursue, illustrating the range of applications and impacts.

Impact continuum

At-home monitoring for personalized healthcare


There is only so much we can learn from data we can only collect in the clinic. The majority of life and disease happens outside of that. We believe that monitoring the ANS at home in patients with various chronic or complex diseases using non-invasive wearables and sensors can shed light on nuances of their individual physiology, help us monitor their disease progression, and personalize their treatment strategy. Eventually, we envision the possibility of individualized prediction and closed-loop control algorithms for therapeutic delivery. We are excited to explore new sensors, modalities of data, methods, and disease areas in the future!

Examples of previous work:

  • Tracking 24-hour autonomic activity in different types of gastroparesis (IEEE TBME 2023, Proc IEEE EMBC 2023)
  • Tracking multi-day autonomic activity in chronic migraine (ongoing)

Critical care and in-clinic decision support

picture in the OR

There are a number of clinical settings in which having more and higher quality information can help clinicians make better informed and more timely decisions about a patient in a high acuity condition. The ANS plays a unique role in such conditions as the controller of our most basic life-preserving functions and reflexes. We believe it may be the key to understanding new disease physiology and capturing a detailed picture of what is happening in a patient. We want to explore new clinical areas of application and understand how the ANS communicates with the central nervous system as well!

Examples of previous work:

Methods/Model development to uncover new physiology

ANS network

At the core of all of these exciting new applications is the development of new methods and computational models that allow us to capture and quantify the relevant underlying physiology, such as how the ANS acts as a network. We aim to build physiologically and statistically rigorous models that are also interpretable for scientists and clinicians. One of our interests is embedding rich inductive biases drawn from physiological priors into computational models to enhance their performance even on small datasets. We are excited to explore new modalities of data and integrate them into our multi-sensor methods.

Examples of previous work: