February 10, 2015: Psychiatrist Karl Deisseroth, a Popular Science Brilliant 10 alumnus, who figured out how to make organs see-through and how to control brain cells with laser light, has been awarded with Lurie Prize in Biomedical Sciences by Foundation for the National Institutes of Health.
He has been awarded for his work on two lab techniques that neuroscientists now use widely to study autism, Alzheimer’s disease, depression, and other brain disorders.
Deisseroth had created a process called CLARITY, which was used in a mouse brain. Through a series of chemical reactions, CLARITY stabilizes organs taken from an animal or human and makes them transparent to the naked eye. The technique allows scientists to look into organs in a whole new way.
Scientists genetically engineered the mouse so that its brain cells turn certain genes on or off when scientists shine laser light onto them. The light enters the mouse’s brain through an optical fiber Optogenetics lets scientists perform experiments on genes they may be associated with certain disorders, but whose functions are mysterious. For example, say 20% of people with autism don’t have Gene A, but scientists aren’t sure what Gene A does. They could turn off Gene A in a mouse’s brain and see what happens next. The mouse’s reaction could provide a clue about what Gene A does in people and why it’s missing in certain patients.
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