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Innovation of the Mind

University of Texas at Arlington Physics professor unveils latest picklock to the brain

UT Arlington physics professor Dr. Samarendra Mohanty
Dr. Samarendra Mohanty and his UTA team unveiled a new method of mapping the brain that is more precise and safer.  Photo courtesy of the University of Texas at Arlington

A UT Arlington assistant physics professor has published a paper about a new fiber-optic tool that would make it possible to show how neighboring regions of the brain react to stimulation. Dr. Samarendra Mohanty and his team — who have a knack for fiber-optics — wrote in the journal Optics Letters about the development of a “fiber-optic, two-photon, optogenetic stimulator and its use on human cells in a laboratory.”

In more layman’s terms, this tiny tool, which is more precise and safer than previous methods, would be helpful in understanding how the brain interacts with itself when stimulated.

 The tiny, fiber-optic tool would be helpful in understanding how the brain interacts with itself when stimulated.

The two-photon optogenetic stimulator works by introducing the gene for a light-responding protein called ChR2 into a cluster of cells, which are then excited with a fiber-optic infrared beam. Researchers examine the response in the cluster, as well as any other parts of the brain that change with the stimulation.

Because of its use of infrared light, the stimulator does not cause the damage associated with traditional electric pulses used in current and past research. Infrared light also is more precise because it requires less energy than other optogenetic stimulators higher up on the electromagnetic spectrum, like blue or green.

Mohanty’s use of fiber-optics gives his team more precision than previous microscopes and scanners.

Last month, President Obama announced the BRAIN initiative — short for Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies — an effort to “map the brain” to combat conditions like stroke, autism and Alzheimer’s. BRAIN would supply $100 million to research to help scientists better understand how we think, learn and remember.

Dr. Mohanty’s stimulator could help progress exploration within the initiative. 

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