Tiny Electronic Devices Shine Light on Brain Disorders
St. Louis, MO - To better understand and one day provide improved treatments for depression, addiction and anxiety, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis are using tiny, electronic devices to identify and map neural circuits in the brain.
The innovative work has been recognized with a rare grant called EUREKA (Exceptional, Unconventional Research Enabling Knowledge Acceleration) that funds high-risk/high-reward projects. The National Institutes of Health supports 12 to 18 such grants each year.
With the award, Michael R. Bruchas, PhD, assistant professor of anesthesiology, and his colleagues will conduct studies with micro-LED devices that his group recently co-developed with a team at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
The work is part of the developing field of optogenetics, which uses advances in optics and genetics to control individual brain cells. For example, scientists can take a light-activated gene targeted at a particular type of neuron and insert the gene into a mouse. It then becomes possible to shine light into the animal’s brain either to get neurons to fire or to inhibit their activity.
In a recent study, Bruchas and his colleagues used the tiny electronic devices, which are thinner than a human hair, to tap into the internal reward system of mice, prodding their neurons to release dopamine, a chemical associated with pleasure, when the mice poked their noses through a hole in a particular part of a maze. Continue>
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