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Every thought, feeling, sensation, and idea you have is encoded in little electrical impulses that travel through the neurons in your brain. Misregulation of these impulses is implicated in every disease of the nervous system. Until recently, neurons were largely unobtainable; and the electrical impulses traveling through them were invisible. These two challenges hampered efforts to develop new medicines for the brain. New advances in stem cell biology now allow scientists to reprogram skin cells into neurons, providing a readily available source of neurons from healthy people and from patients with genetically based diseases of the nervous system. Dr. Cohen’s lab introduced a gene from a Dead Sea microorganism into neurons, which converts neural electrical impulses into flashes of fluorescence. This has resulted in high-speed movies of electrical impulses traveling through human neurons in a dish allowing them to study the molecular basis for a wide array of neuronal diseases.
Adam Cohen is a professor in the departments of Chemistry and Chemical Biology and Physics at Harvard. He is also an investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. His research focuses on understanding and controlling light-matter interactions in warm, wet, squishy environments. His lab discovered that a gene from a Dead Sea microorganism, when transferred to human neurons, converted the electrical impulses of these cells into flashes of fluorescence. Cohen has received the Blavatnik National Award in Chemistry and the American Chemical Society Pure Chemistry Award. Cohen founded a biotech company, Q-State Biosciences, focused on combining optical imaging with stem cell technology to develop new diagnostics and therapies for neuropsychiatric and neurodegenerative diseases. He has also worked on helping to develop science education in Liberia.
This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at http://ted.com/tedx