Neuroscientist Karl Deisseroth: “Coronavirus has changed us all”
June 14, 2021
NOMIS Awardee Karl Deisseroth talks about the path that led him to neuroscience and to the discovery of optogenetics, as well as the effect of the pandemic on mental health, and much more, in an interview by Richard Godwin in The Guardian.
The neuroscientist and psychiatrist explains Zoom fatigue – and why the conditions of the pandemic can induce an ‘altered state’
The coronavirus pandemic has been a disorienting kind of emergency. It is a generation-defining cataclysm, but for many of us the day-to-day reality has been lonely, even dull. It is a call to action, but the most useful thing most of us can do is stay at home. Covid-19 is a disease that attacks the lungs, but it has also worsened mental health while causing a drastic reduction in patients seeking care for depression, self-harm, eating disorders and anxiety. Whatever path the pandemic takes from here, says Karl Deisseroth, the pioneering American neuroscientist, psychiatrist, bioengineer and now author, “Coronavirus has affected us all and it has changed us all. There’s no doubt about that.”
Deisseroth, 49, is talking in the lush, squirrel-filled garden of his house in Palo Alto, northern California, where he has spent much of the pandemic looking after his four young children. But he has had much else on his mind. He has been finishing his book, Connections: A Story of Human Feeling, an investigation into the nature of human emotions. He has been meeting with psychiatric patients over Zoom as well as putting in night shifts as an emergency hospital psychiatrist. And he has fitted all of this around his day job, which is using tiny fibre-optic cables to fire lasers into the brains of mice that he has infected with cells from light-sensitive algae and then observing what happens, millisecond by millisecond, when he turns individual neurons on or off.
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D.H. Chen Professor of Bioengineering and of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences
Discovering the Causal Principles Underlying Brain-wide Dynamics
NOMIS RESEARCH PROJECT