New photonic tools will delve deeper into the brain

An international project aims to create new photonic tools that can access the deep brain and provide further understanding of neurological diseases.

DEEPER
Image by Colin Behrens from Pixabay

Strathclyde University is the UK participant in DEEPER (Deep Brain Photonic Tools for Cell-Type Specific Targeting of Neural Diseases), which is investigating the deep-brain alterations underlying the origin of neurological and psychiatric diseases such as dementia, depression, addiction, schizophrenia and chronic pain.

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The four-year study involves 12 partners in eight countries, coordinated by Italian Institute of Technology (IIT), and has received funding of approximately €5.7m from the European Union via the Horizon 2020 programme.

Professor Keith Mathieson, director of Strathclyde’s Institute of Photonics and Royal Academy of Engineering Chair in Emerging Technologies, is a partner in the project. He said: “This project is making a big push to develop photonic technology for the benefit of neuroscience, in particular looking beyond cortical structures. You can already image the brain down to a depth of a few hundred microns; we want to go deeper than that.

“The technology we’re developing will be in the form of lightweight, minimally invasive optoelectronic probes to deliver light to neural circuits. The wider consortium will be developing light-sensitive proteins that can be activated by these devices and will allow the neuroscience teams to explore neural mechanisms, which are not as well understood as we would wish.”

Researchers in the project aim to develop and commercialise an entire new class of photonic devices and instruments exploiting light for imaging and manipulating the neuronal activity in deep brain regions with the highest resolution, penetration and specificity.

The new tools will be molecular optical sensors, minimally invasive brain probes, next-generation microscopes and endoscopes that will use light to acquire images of specific deep brain areas and to control brain electrical activity on selected portions of the central nervous system, in order to study dysfunctions at molecular and cellular level.

The project is being co-ordinated at the IIT Center for Biomolecular Nanotechnologies in Lecce. Other partners are the Universities of Zurich, Geneva, Freiburg, Hamburg and Paris (Sorbonne); the Institute of Scientific Instruments of the Czech Academy of Sciences in Brno; the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel; the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia in Barcelona, plus Italy’s OptogeniX and Atlas Neuroengineering in Belgium.