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$2.25 million NIH grant lights up CMU neuroscience research

Results could flip the switch on treatment for brain disorders

Contact: Dan Digmann

​​A $2.25 million National Institutes of Health grant is infusing more light into Central Michigan University-based research that could revolutionize how neurological and psychological disorders are treated.

CMU neuroscientist and College of Medicine faculty member Ute Hochgeschwender is leading the grant-funded project that will continue her team's investigation into using light to control and repair damaged cells in the brain. According to the World Health Organization, brain disorders affect more than one billion people worldwide.

"This has the potential to stimulate cells that have been damaged by diseases within the brain by keeping the neurons active."​

— Ute Hochgeschwender, CM​U neuroscientist and College of Medicine faculty

Through molecular engineering, Hochgeschwender and her research colleagues from Brown University in Rhode Island and Scintillon Institute for Biomedical and Bioenergy Research in California are controlling the activity of cells through a process called bioluminescent optogenetics — or BL-OG. With BL-OG, light-producing proteins activate light-sensing proteins that are placed into specific cells in the brain.

Depending on the type of protein used, the shining light either can activate or inhibit the firing of neurons.

"The molecules of light will open up channels within the cells to either turn on or turn off the neurons," Hochgeschwender said. "This has the potential to stimulate cells that have been damaged by diseases within the brain by keeping the neurons active."

This research will help develop and validate new technologies for targeted manipulation of brain cell activity. It also will define novel brain circuits and therapeutic strategies for treating diseases and conditions such as depression, autism and schizophrenia, as well as memory decline, addiction and epilepsy.

NeuroscienceResearch.jpgCurrently, Hochgeschwender is working with CMU undergraduate and graduate neuroscience program researchers to apply these methods in potentially treating neurodegenerative diseases and spinal cord injuries.

The three-year project is funded through NIH grants that support the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies Initiative.

"For all of this research, when we find a molecular tool that works, we don't wait to publish the results in a research journal," Hochgeschwender said. "We make the information public right away because people can take that research and build on it to make advances in this key area related to the BRAIN Initiative."

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