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Debugging the human brain


Innovative technologies for understanding and repairing misfiring neurons

22 January 2019 | IET London: Savoy Place

IET London: Savoy Place (logo) This event can contribute towards your Continuing Professional Development (CPD) as part of the IET's CPD monitoring scheme.

About the event

Ed and his team are inventing three toolsets to help us understand how brains work, more specifically when they are working abnormally.

Firstly, they will map the brain with molecular precision, inventing a novel technology platform called expansion microscopy (ExM), in which they will embed brain specimens in a swellable polymer (not unlike the active ingredient in nappies), then add water – which causes them to expand isotropically manifold, so that the finest details become visible.

Secondly, they have developed a technology, optogenetics, which enables the ability to control specific cells, embedded within dense neural circuits, with light. They insert natural proteins (which convert light into electrical signals) into neurons, then use light to activate or silence specific neurons, and see how they contribute to disease states - or to their remedy.

Thirdly, they are inventing molecules that fluoresce when neurons are active, to see the ongoing dynamics in states of health and disease, and understand what changes might need to be corrected.

With these tools they aim to discover strategies for repairing the computations of the brain at a ‘ground truth’ level - with high efficacy, and with minimal side effects.


Professor Ed Boyden (image) Ed Boyden, Associate Professor of Biological Engineering and Brain and Cognitive Sciences at the MIT Media Lab and the MIT McGovern Institute.

In 2011 he was awarded the first IET Harvey Prize of £300,000 for his pioneering research contributions to, and development of, the field of optogenetics, which has the potential to enable new approaches to therapy.

He has received the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences (2016), the BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award (2015), the Carnegie Prize in Mind and Brain Sciences (2015), the Jacob Heskel Gabbay Award (2013), the Grete Lundbeck Brain Prize (2013), the NIH Director's Pioneer Award (2013), the NIH Director's Transformative Research Award (three times, 2012, 2013, and 2017), and the Perl/UNC Neuroscience Prize (2011). He was also named to the World Economic Forum Young Scientist list (2013), the Technology Review World’s "Top 35 Innovators under Age 35" list (2006), and is an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (2017).

Ed has given two TED talks: A light switch for neurons and A new way to study the brain’s invisible secrets.

IET Harvey Prize Committee Chair Professor Sir John O’Reilly will host this event and chair the Q&A session.


18:30 - Registration
19:00 - Lecture commences
20.30 - Q&A followed by networking drinks reception
21:30 - Close

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