Engineering Innovation Podcast and Radio Series

Brain Switches

PostedFebruary 23, 2014

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Anchor Lead: Researchers are engineering ways to control individual cells in our nervous system, and the potential applications are mind-boggling.

Randy Atkins: Using gene therapy techniques, specific brain and nerve cells can be equipped with light-sensitive molecules. Ed Boyden, a bioengineer at MIT, says they serve as switches.

Ed Boyden: And what we’ve been able to do now is to turn on and off different cells in the brain using light.

Randy Atkins: Boyden says new fiber optics can deliver complex 3-D light patterns in the brain and elsewhere in the body…so these methods could block chronic pain, stop seizures, reactivate damaged nerve pathways, and more.

Ed Boyden: Now we can try to play back complex neural codes like the kind that might represent a visual scene or a decision directly to the brain.

Randy Atkins: Yes, someday maybe even literally putting thoughts in people’s minds. With the National Academy of Engineering, Randy Atkins, WTOP News.