University of Pittsburgh

All plenary sessions will be presented in Alumni Hall’s 7th floor lecture hall.

Dickson Prize in
Medicine Lecture

Optical and Chemical Tools for High-Resolution Investigation of Intact Biological Systems
11:00 a.m., Thursday, 8 October

Karl Deisseroth, MD, PhD
D.H. Chen Professor of Bioengineering and Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University School of Medicine
Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute

The exploration of brain circuitry has long been the research focus of Karl Deisseroth, MD, PhD. By developing ways to study electrical signals that influence neuron communication, Deisseroth strives to unmask what he calls the “syntax of the brain’s internal language.” His lab designs methods for high-resolution imaging and investigation of intact biological systems, with a focus on vertebrate central nervous systems. With optogenetics, which uses light to control precise activity in mammal brains, and CLARITY, which enables high-resolution structural imaging of intact brains, Deisseroth has created tools leading to new understanding of neural circuit function while enabling further research across the scientific community.

By developing optogenetics, Deisseroth and his colleagues created a technology that uses light to precisely control millisecond-scale activity in certain cell types in the brains of mammals. The approach allows researchers to experimentally modulate behavior in freely moving mammals. A practicing psychiatrist, Deisseroth has also used optogenetics to study behaviors related to depression, anxiety, reward, and motivation in laboratory animals.

In an April 2013 issue of the journal Nature, Deisseroth described his lab’s technique for turning a brain transparent. The process, which he named CLARITY, uses a detergent to strip away lipids that normally block the passage of light. Other groups had tried to clarify brains in the past, but many lipid-extraction techniques dissolve proteins and thus make it harder to identify different types of neurons. Deisseroth’s group solved this problem by first infusing the brain with acryl­amide, which binds proteins, nucleic acids, and other biomolecules, creating a firm gel from the resulting transformed brain. CLARITY allows researchers to view large networks of neurons with unprecedented ease and accuracy.

Deisseroth earned his bachelor’s degree in biochemical sciences at Harvard University in 1992. He then entered Stanford University’s Medical Scientist Training Program, earning his PhD in neuroscience in 1998 and his MD in 2000. He completed a residency in psychiatry and a postdoctoral fellowship at Stanford. He was named the D.H. Chen Professor of Bioengineering and professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford in 2012. He is a peer reviewer on a number of journals, including Nature, Neuron, and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Deisseroth's honors and awards include an NIH Director’s Pioneer Award for optogenetics; a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers; election to the Institute of Medicine in 2010, the National Academy of Sciences in 2012, and the German National Academy of Sciences in 2014; the Robert J. and Claire Pasarow Foundation Medical Research Award; the Zuelch Prize; the Perl Prize; the BRAIN prize; the Koetser Prize; the Nakasone Award; the Alden Spencer Prize; the 2013 Dickson Prize in Science from Carnegie Mellon University; the Keio Prize; the Lurie Prize in Biomedical Sciences; the Albany Medical Center Prize in Medicine and Biomedical Research; the Richard Lounsbery Award from the National Academy of Sciences; and others.

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