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World-leading neuroscientist gives exclusive talk on reprogramming the human brain to treat medical disorders

Over a billion people suffer from a brain disorder, few of which are well-treated by existing drugs or devices. A key problem is that the brain is a complex, densely wired circuit made out of neurons, varying in shape, biomolecular composition, and patterns of connectivity.

Pinpointing how to treat brain disorders demands better maps of the brain, as well as a better understanding of brain dynamics, and the knowledge of how to correct these dynamics when they go awry.

This exciting evening talk will explore Professor Boyden's research into this field of neuroscience, linking engineering principles with a core medical problem – how do you reprogram a brain that is misfiring?

As part of his talk, Prof. Boyden will discuss his team’s invention of three toolsets to make these understandings possible:

  • Brain mapping with molecular precision – including the invention of using a novel technology platform called expansion microscopy (ExM), in which brain specimens embedded in swellable polymers can expand in water, allow the finest details to be visible with molecular precision (not unlike the active ingredient in disposable nappies).
  • Optogenetics - the ability to control specific cells with light via natural proteins, to see more clearly how particular areas of the brain respond to and control disease states, and how that can be manipulated to their remedy.
  • Fluorescing molecules when neurons are active to see the ongoing dynamics in states of health and disease, to better inform work on how to correct neural problems. With these tools, the team aims to discover strategies for repairing the computations of the brain at a ‘ground truth’ level - with high efficacy, and with minimal side effects.

In 2011 Prof. Boyden was awarded the first IET Harvey Prize of £300,000 for his pioneering research contributions to, and development of, the field of optogenetics, which has the potential to enable new approaches to therapy.

He will present his ground-breaking research on 22 January 2019 at IET London: Savoy Place. 

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Notes to editors

Ed Boyden, Y. Eva Tan Professor in Neurotechnology, Associate Professor of Biological Engineering and Brain and Cognitive Sciences at the MIT Media Lab and the MIT McGovern Institute.