The V AMMCS International Conference

Waterloo, Ontario, Canada | August 18-23, 2019

AMMCS 2019 Plenary Talk

Tools for Mapping and Controlling the Brain

Ed Boyden (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)

To enable the understanding and repair of complex biological systems such as the brain, we are creating novel optical tools that enable molecular-resolution maps of large scale systems, as well as technologies for observing and controlling high-speed physiological dynamics in such systems. These tools may enable datasets for precision modeling and control of the brain, at a computational level. First, we have developed a method for imaging large 3-D specimens with nanoscale precision, by embedding them in a swellable polymer, homogenizing their mechanical properties, and exposing them to water – which causes them to expand isotropically manyfold. This method, which we call expansion microscopy (ExM), enables scalable, inexpensive diffraction-limited microscopes to do large-volume nanoscopy, in a multiplexed fashion – important, for example, for brain mapping. Second, we have developed a set of genetically-encoded reagents, known as optogenetic tools, that when expressed in specific neurons, enable their electrical activities to be precisely driven or silenced in response to millisecond timescale pulses of light. We have also begun to develop noninvasive ways to electrically stimulate deep targets in the human brain. Finally, we are developing novel reagents, such as fluorescent voltage indicators, and systems, such as novel microscope architectures, to enable the imaging of fast physiological processes in 3-D with millisecond precision. In this way we aim to enable the systematic mapping, control, and dynamical observation of complex biological systems like the brain, with the ultimate goal of enabling detailed computational models of brain circuits and computational principles of neural control.
Ed Boyden is Y. Eva Tan Professor in Neurotechnology at MIT, associate professor of Biological Engineering and Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT's Media Lab and McGovern Institute for Brain Research, and was recently selected to be an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (2018). He leads the Synthetic Neurobiology Group, which develops tools for analyzing and repairing complex biological systems such as the brain, and applies them systematically to reveal ground truth principles of biological function as well as to repair these systems. These technologies include expansion microscopy, which enables complex biological systems to be imaged with nanoscale precision; optogenetic tools, which enable the activation and silencing of neural activity with light; robotic methods for directed evolution that are yielding new synthetic biology reagents for dynamic imaging of physiological signals; novel methods of noninvasive focal brain stimulation; and new methods of nanofabrication using shrinking of patterned materials to create nanostructures with ordinary lab equipment. He co-directs the MIT Center for Neurobiological Engineering, which aims to develop new tools to accelerate neuroscience progress.