Karl Deisseroth, NOMIS Distinguished Scientist Awardee 2017

Karl Deisseroth is D.H. Chen Professor of Bioengineering and of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University, California. He has been credited with developing and implementing an approach to biology called optogenetics, a technique that involves the use of light to control cells in living tissue, typically neurons, that have been genetically modified to express light-sensitive ion channels. Among other advances in laboratory neuroscience techniques, his research has led to thousands of major discoveries regarding the causal underpinnings of complex behavior. But while optics-based discovery of causal mechanisms in animals has been successful, little work has succeeded in revealing brain-wide patterns and underlying causal principles in humans.

The NOMIS Distinguished Scientist Award 2017 enables Deisseroth and his team to implement the project Circuit States: Discovering the Causal Principles Underlying Brain-wide Dynamics, which will adapt and combine new technologies developed in the Deisseroth Lab. Among them is CAPTURE, a technique that combines optogenetics and another recently developed technique, CLARITY, to see into the intact brain, enabling highly detailed pictures of the protein and nucleic acid structure of the brain to be taken. CAPTURE makes it possible to track brain-wide networks of cells that were actively engaged during behavioral experiments.

The aim of adapting these new techniques is to record and control thousands of neurons across multiple brain areas. Based on the results, the project will build causal models for brain-wide neurodynamics in behavior as well as for brain states corresponding to acute or chronic stress and to multisensory integration in attention-requiring discrimination. Deisseroth’s research project has the potential to unify different areas of biology, and significantly advance our basic understanding of neural pathways.

In an interview with Deisseroth, NOMIS talked to him about how he builds an environment that fosters creative science and what kind of people he needs on his team to do pioneering research. Read the complete interview.

Karl Deisseroth studied biochemical science at Harvard University, Boston, and received a PhD in neuroscience in 1998 and an MD in 2000 from Stanford University. He was appointed D.H. Chen Professor of Bioengineering and of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University in 2012.