Jackie Hosey
School of Pharmacy

Parkinson's disease researcher will speak at KU

Wed, 10/04/2017

LAWRENCE — One of the world’s leading neuroscientists will be at the University of Kansas School of Pharmacy this week to talk about his research using light to control the activity of the brain.

The School of Pharmacy’s Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry will host the 15th Takeru Higuchi Memorial Lecture, named for the late KU pharmacy professor Takeru Higuchi, on Thursday, Oct. 5. This year’s lecture will feature Karl Deisseroth, the D.H. Chen Professor of Bioengineering and of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University.

The Stanford News Service reports that early in his career, Deisseroth sunk most of the funds he'd been given to start his lab at Stanford into the idea that, with a little help from proteins found in pond scum, he could use light to turn neurons on and off in living animals. If it didn’t work, he would be out of funds with no published research, and he thought, looking for a new job.

Luckily, it did work and today, scientists around the world have used optogenetics to probe addiction, depression, Parkinson's disease, autism, pain, stroke and many other conditions.

For example, Deisseroth and his team used optogenetics to stimulate different components of the brain's wiring in animals with a version of Parkinson's disease and found that connections arriving into a particular region deep in the brain, when stimulated, powerfully reduce symptoms.

Doctors who treat Parkinson's disease will sometimes implant an electrode that stimulates this brain region in patients, with quite a bit of success in reducing symptoms. But there had been debate over what wiring the electrode should stimulate. Deisseroth's work pointed to these arriving neuronal connections.

"Now neurosurgeons are finding that placing their electrical contacts to target connections gives better results in treating symptoms in people with Parkinson's and many other conditions," Deisseroth said.

Deisseroth will present a technical lecture at noon at the School of Pharmacy, Room 2020. That will be followed by a 5:30 p.m. public lecture titled “Integrated Brainwide Structural and Functional Analysis,” also at the School of Pharmacy, Room 2020.

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