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Using light to better understand mental illness

Earlier this week, my colleague reported on the "optogenetic" technique developed by Stanford psychiatrist/bioengineer Karl Deisseroth, MD, PhD. Now Forbes writer Robert Langreth, in an article made available today online, profiles the young researcher and further describes the amazing things he's trying to do with light:

...He and 42 fellow researchers are pioneering a radical technology to shine a bright light on the cellular causes of mental illness. He uses an improbable combination of green algae, blue lasers, gene therapy and fiber optics to map neural circuits deep inside the brain with a precision that has never been possible before. He hopes this will help identify what goes awry to cause disorders like depression, anxiety, schizophrenia and autism.

The technique, dubbed optogenetics, is barely five years old and, so far, has been used only on laboratory animals. But brain scientists are already talking excitedly about how this will do for neuroscience what the telescope did for astronomy. "Basic questions that people have been asking for decades are going to be answered with these approaches," says Michael Hausser, a neuroscientist at University College London. "It is difficult to overestimate the potential." Adds Rutgers University neuroscientist Gyrgy Buzski: "It is a fantastic revolution. If Karl doesn't do anything else, if he just sits in his office, he will get a Nobel Prize--there is no question in my mind."

Previously: Using unconventional therapies to troubleshoot the brain

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