Today’s Science Times profiles the work of a Stanford psychiatrist and basic scientist, Karl Deisseroth, M.D., Ph.D., who has developed two important new tools to advance understanding of brain activity and how it translates to behavior. Dr. Deisseroth received early support from a NARSAD Young Investigator Grant in 2005 for his work developing what is called optogenetics, a technique that has transformed neuroscience by allowing scientists to control individual brain cells with light and observe the corresponding behavior in living animals. It is a radical and important step in deciphering the brain’s language—how does brain activity drive, impede or distort behavior, specifically? The technology is enabling the identification of the mechanisms in the brain that give rise to depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, autism, addiction and other brain and behavior disorders.
Cornelia Bargmann, Ph.D., co-leader of the Advisory Committee for the BRAIN Initiative unveiled last April at the White House, says of optogenetics in the article: “Optogenetics is the most revolutionary thing that has happened in neuroscience in the past couple of decades. It is one of the advances that made it seem this is the right time to do a brain initiative.”
Dr. Deisseroth and his team went on last year to introduce CLARITY, a breakthrough technology that enables researchers for the first time to image a whole, intact brain in three dimensions and obtain a virtually transparent view of its inner structure. He explains in the article that optogenetics is a crucial tool for understanding brain function while CLARITY aids brain mapping of structure, which is equally important to understanding overall brain activity. Driven by his experience as a practicing psychiatrist with patients continuing to suffer and in great need of more effective treatments, Dr. Deisseroth told the Times, “I don’t think a day goes by that I’m not looking at results and thinking how to apply them clinically.”
Dr. Deisseroth received the Foundation’s 2013 Goldman-Rakic Prize for Outstanding Achievement in Cognitive Neuroscience in recognition of the impact of his work and the promise it offers those living with mental illness.