Northern California Science Writers Association

The see-through brain

  • Thursday, August 04, 2016
  • 6:00 PM - 9:30 PM
  • Hong Kong Flower Lounge, Millbrae
  • 0


Registration is closed
For all the progress the field of neuroscience has made in recent decades, the brain remains a largely unexplored organ composed of countless information-processing “black box” modules and lengthy cables conveying information to distant regions.

Trying to untangle this circuitry has been daunting. Everything could, in principle, be connected to everything. But in the past decade, Karl Deisseroth, MD, PhD, a professor of bioengineering and of psychiatry at the Stanford University School of Medicine, has pioneered the development of two game-changing brain-exploration technologies. These achievements won him last year’s $3 million Breakthrough Prize, and landed him on the working group of President Obama’s BRAIN Initiative.

The first game-changing innovation, optogenetics, enables researchers to examine individual nerve cells or circuits in a conscious, active animal – and perhaps, someday, to treat human patients. By inserting light-sensitive microbial proteins on the surfaces of nerve cells, individual neurons or circuits can be instantly and repeatedly activated or blocked with the flick of a light switch, and the downstream effects monitored.

The second technology, CLARITY, replaces all the fatty membranes in a chunk of tissue – for example, the brain of a rat –with a hydrogel. This preserves the tissue’s structural features and its intracellular, cell-surface, and cell-connecting contents while rendering the tissue fully transparent. The tissue also remains highly permeable, so that molecular biologists can use targeted antibodies or bits of genetic material to search for, identify and label specific intracellular or cell-membrane components.

Optogenetics has already revealed some of the brain’s secrets, such as the different pathways traveled by positive versus negative emotional experiences, the whereabouts in the brain of the circuitry responsible for social interaction, anxiety and depression, and how to tweak the therapy known as deep-brain stimulation for optimal patient responses.

On Aug. 4, Dr. Deisseroth will show us how these breakthrough technologies work and show images and video clips that dramatically explain their powerful potential.

WHERE: Hong Kong Flower Lounge Restaurant, 51 Millbrae Ave., Millbrae (650-692-6666)

WHEN: Thursday, Aug. 4, 6 p.m.

DETAILS: The Hong Kong Flower Lounge, located a few blocks from the Millbrae BART station, offers a Chinese banquet menu, with the following dishes delivered to each 10-person table:

chicken lettuce wrap
Mongolian beef
snap peas with sauteed mushrooms
braised egg custard tofu
sweet and sour pork
mixed vegetable chow mein
fresh mushrooms with pea shoots

Dessert, coffee tea.

COST: $24 members, $35 non-members, $16 students

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