Friday Evening Lecture Series – “Optogenetics: Tools from Nature for Controlling the Brain With Light”

Date(s) - 07/26/2013
8:00 pm - 9:00 pm
Lillie Auditorium

Friday Evening Lecture Series“Optogenetics: Tools from Nature for Controlling the Brain With Light”
Edward Boyden, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
July 26, 2013, 8:00 PM, Lillie Auditorium

Introduction by Alberto Pereda, Albert Einstein College of Medicine

ed-boydenLecture Abstract:
The brain is a complex, densely wired circuit made out of heterogeneous cells, which vary in their shapes, molecular composition, and patterns of connectivity. In order to help discover how neural circuits implement brain functions, and how these computations go awry in brain disorders, we invent technologies to enable the scalable, systematic observation and control of biological structures and processes in the living brain.

Building off of natural photosensory and photosynthetic molecules that organisms throughout the tree of life use to sense light and store its energy, we have developed genetically-encoded reagents that, when expressed in specific neuron types in the nervous system, enable their electrical activities to be precisely driven or silenced in response to millisecond timescale pulses of light.

I will give an overview of these “optogenetic” tools, adapted from natural photosensory and photosynthetic proteins, and discuss new tools we are developing, including molecules with novel color sensitivities and other unique capabilities.

We have developed microfabricated hardware to enable complex and distributed neural circuits to be controlled and observed in a fully 3-D fashion, as well as robots that can automatically record neurons intracellularly and integratively in live brain.  These tools are in widespread use to enable systematic analysis of neural circuit functions, and are also opening up new frontiers on the understanding and treatment of brain disorders.


Dr. Edward Boyden is the Benesse Career Development Professor, and associate professor of biological engineering and brain and cognitive sciences, at the MIT Media Lab and the MIT McGovern Institute, respectively. He leads the Synthetic Neurobiology group, which develops tools for controlling and observing the dynamic circuits of the brain, and uses these neurotechnologies to understand how cognition and emotion arise from brain network operation, as well as to enable systematic repair of intractable brain disorders such as epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, post- traumatic stress disorder, and chronic pain. The tools his group has invented include a suite of ‘optogenetic’ tools that are now in use by hundreds of groups around the world, for activating and silencing neurons with light.  Dr. Boyden has launched an award-winning series of classes at MIT that teach principles of neuroengineering, starting with basic principles of how to control and observe neural functions, and culminating with strategies for launching companies in the nascent neurotechnology space.

Dr. Boyden was named to the “Top 35 Innovators Under the Age of 35” by Technology Review in 2006, and to the “Top 20 Brains Under Age 40” by Discover magazine in 2008. He has received the NIH Director’s New Innovator Award, the Society for Neuroscience Research Award for Innovation in Neuroscience, the NSF CAREER Award, the Paul Allen Distinguished Investigator Award, and the New York Stem Cell Robertson Investigator Award. In 2010, his work was recognized as the “Method of the Year” by the journal Nature Methods, and in 2011 he delivered a lecture on his lab’s work at TED.

Dr. Boyden received his Ph.D. in neurosciences from Stanford University and received three degrees in electrical engineering and physics from MIT. He is an alumnus of the MBL Neural Systems and Behavior Course and has recently been a faculty member in the course and in the MBL Neurobiology Course. He has contributed to over 250 peer-reviewed papers, current or pending patents, and articles, and has given over 140 invited talks on his work.


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