William “Jamie” Tyler, an assistant professor in the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, recently received the Roanoke-Blacksburg Technology Council’s 2013 Innovation Award. 

Tyler was honored for pioneering a promising avenue of research that could both provide powerful insights into brain circuitry and yield a novel approach to treating neurological and psychiatric diseases.

Tyler received the award during TechNite, an annual celebration of innovation in southwestern Virginia, in front of a crowd of nearly 600 entrepreneurs, regional and community leaders, inventors, corporate executives, university leaders, and investors.

The primary focus of Tyler’s laboratory is using pulsed ultrasound to modulate neuronal activity in the living brain safely. Deep-brain stimulation strategies have been shown to be effective in treating a number of neurological and psychiatric conditions, including Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, chronic pain, major depression, and migraines. Yet the invasiveness of the procedures and the risks associated with surgical implants in the brain render this type of therapy a last resort for most patients. So Tyler is pioneering ultrasonic neuromodulation techniques to access deep regions of the brain noninvasively, enabling a range of brain treatments without surgery.

Last year Tyler, who is also an assistant professor at the Virginia Tech–Wake Forest University School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences, received a McKnight Technological Innovation in Neuroscience Award. The founder and past president of SynSonix in Tempe, Ariz., Tyler is the founder and chief scientific officer of Neurotrek, a company with offices in Silicon Valley, Roanoke, and Boston that is actively engaged in developing noninvasive brain stimulation technology.

“Jamie makes us proud to be his colleagues,” said Michael Friedlander, executive director of the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute. “We were very fortunate to be able to attract him to Roanoke to join the institute. He brings not only an important and fresh perspective on developing new ways to treat the devastating consequences of neurological and psychiatric diseases, but he is also an outstanding innovator who fearlessly attacks some of the most challenging problems in brain research.”

The other 10 finalist nominees for the Innovation Award included a range of pioneers – both individual and organizational – with such achievements as devising electronic focusing eyewear, developing a NASA-licensed ceramic coating that improves the transfer of radiant heat, and inventing a system for preventing distracted driving.

In accepting the award, Tyler noted that he could not achieve anything without the inspiration of his colleagues, mentors, and friends in the community. He then quipped, with a glance at Derick Maggard, the executive director of the Roanoke-Blacksburg Technology Council, who was sporting the latest high-tech eyewear, “Can I wear the Google Glass now?”