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Nicolas C. Pégard, Ph.D., a University of California, Berkeley neuroscientist will provide an illuminating overview of his work to develop optical systems that are designed to help neuroscientists solve problems. Of particular interest to Berkley, neuroscientist is a method known as optogenetics. Optogenetics is a process that uses light to modify molecular events in a specific manner, in living cells and organisms, which enables researchers to connect computers to the brain and focus on specific neurons. Essentially, the cell’s genetic toolbox is used to create proteins that are not naturally present within the brain, a true combination process combining optics and genetics.

The Berkeley researcher will detail how his team uses holograms to create artificial patterns of neural activity that can mimic what the brain is doing when it is experiencing a thought or engaging in an action. This allows researchers to put the brain into a state that replicates what would happen if the brain had actually experienced a sensory stimulus. Pégard gives us a glimpse into the future of these techniques of neuroscience, some of which sound like they could be pulled straight from a big budget science fiction Hollywood movie plot. Case in point, this neural activity method could actually trick the brain into believing something has occurred that did not, or even place new ideas into the brain.

The discussion will detail how observation of the brain in a diseased state could lead to monumental advances in drug therapy for brain diseases, which may enable the development of higher efficacy drugs with minimal or no side effects. Further research could facilitate groundbreaking achievements in prosthetics, for if there can be communication with the brain that involves multiple thousands of neurons, prostheses could become higher functioning. Nicolas C. Pégard and neuroscience researchers foresee changes that could literally alter the course for human health and brain function, but for now, his team is taking it to step by step.

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