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IET awards first ever A F Harvey Prize

6 January 2012
IET Communications team
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Ed Boyden (photo)

IET award brings hope for epilepsy sufferers.

The IET's inaugural A F Harvey Engineering Research Prize has been awarded for the development of a system that could detect and stop the life-threatening seizures of the world’s 50 million sufferers of epilepsy.

The Prize recipient behind the innovative research is neuroscientist Professor Edward S Boyden of the world renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Awarded £300,000 in recognition of outstanding contributions to research in medical engineering, specifically for his pioneering developments in the field of optogenetics, Professor Boyden’s work has the potential to enable new approaches to therapy.

Making use of the prize fund, Professor Boyden is proposing to build on the advances he has already made by seeking to create an implantable prosthetic. This device will detect the electrical activity associated with seizures and respond by emitting light to rapidly drive or silence key neurons, effectively halting the seizure.

Speaking about his research, Professor Boyden said: "Over the last several years, we've developed a suite of molecular tools that make neurons activatable or silenceable by pulses of light. These tools are in widespread use in science because they let you turn brain cells on or off, thus revealing what the cells do in the brain. We're eager to keep expanding this toolbox, and also to help figure out clinical uses for the tools as novel therapeutics."

Nigel Fine, IET Chief Executive and Secretary, said: “Professor Boyden’s outstanding research into technologies that enable the electrical activity of brain cells to be controlled by light, has opened up the possibility of new kinds of treatments for otherwise untreatable brain disorders.

“Professor Boyden is a worthy recipient of the first ever IET A F Harvey Engineering Research Prize. I am confident that the funding will accelerate his work and the results will be of great use to medical science and those who have epilepsy. I am delighted that this award has gone to such a worthy cause.”