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Course on neuro-tech

This semester (spring, 2017), I taught a course titled “New breakthrough technologies in neuroscience research”:

Catalog description: In the past decade, neuroscientists have developed a number of new, exciting methods for studying the brain. For examples, some research labs now use laser to activate genetically-engineered neurons (optogenetics). Others have created a detailed 3-dimensional map of neural connectivity at nano-scale resolution, based on electron microscopy images (connectome). Some other labs are developing neuroprosthetic devices that can be controlled directly by neural activity (brain-computer interface). In this course, we will learn about these breakthrough technologies, by reading primary research articles.

Students read the following papers (chosen by me):

  • optogenetics: “Millisecond-timescale, genetically targetted optical control of neural activity” by Boyden et al. (2005)
  • connectome: “Connectomic reconstruction of the inner plexiform layer in the mouse retina” by Helmstaedter et al., (2013); “Space-time wiring specificity support direction selectivity in the retina” by Kim et al., (2014)
  • Brain-Computer Interface: “Reach and grasp by people with tetraplegia using a neurally controlled robotic arm” by Hochberg et al., (2012)

Students made presentations on the following neuro-tech:

  • Dopamine nanosensor: “High-resolution imaging of cellular dopamine efflux using a fluorescent nanosensor array”
  • Brainbow: “Transgenic strategies for combinatorial expression of fluorescent proteins in the nervous system”
  • Neuronal Positioning System: “Multispectral labeling technique to map many neighboring axonal projections in the same tissue”
  • BCI: “A high-performance brain-computer interface”
  • Retinal implant: “Photovoltaic restoration of sight with high visual acuity”
  • Photoacoustic imaging: “Noninvasive photoacoustic angiography of animal brains with near-infrared light and an optical contrast agent”
  • Gamma Knife: “The Leksell Gamma Knife Perfexion and comparisons with its predecessors”

Learning to extract “big ideas” from these research articles definitely takes some practice and hard work.

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