Oxford, UK 11 March 2013 - Professor Gero Miesenbck, Director of the Centre for Neural Circuits and Behaviour at the University of Oxford, has been awarded The Brain Prize 2013 "for the invention and refinement of optogenetics."
Miesenbck was the first scientist who modified nerve cells genetically to produce light-responsive pigments. By shining light on the pigment-producing cells he caused them to become electrically active. The function of the nerve cells could thus be influenced remotely, using flashes of light instead of direct electrical connections. Miesenbck was also the first to use the technique of optogenetics to remote-control the behaviour of an animal, which he had bred to contain light-sensitive nerve cells in its brain.
Miesenbck shares the 1 million award with five other scientists: Ernst Bamberg of the Max-Planck Institute for Biophysics, Edward Boyden of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Karl Deisseroth of Stanford University, Peter Hegemann of Humboldt University, and Georg Nagel of the University of Wrzburg. Boyden and Deisseroth refined optogenetics by swapping the light-responsive molecule originally used by Miesenbck for a different photopigment, which had been discovered and characterised in the interim by Bamberg, Hegemann, and Nagel.
The Brain Prize is endowed by the Copenhagen-based Grete Lundbeck European Brain Research Foundation. The prize will be awarded by HRH Frederik, The Crown Prince of Denmark, in a ceremony on May 2nd, 2013.
The Selection Committee, comprising an international jury of distinguished scientists, commented: "This revolutionary technique allows genetically specified populations of neurons to be turned on or off with light, offering not only the ability to elucidate the characteristics of normal and abnormal neural circuitry, but also new approaches to treatment of brain disorders."
Gero Miesenbck says: "I knew from our first successful experiment that this
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