Gabbay Award for optogenetics

October 2, 2013

Gero Miesenböck is one of this year’s recipients of the Jacob Heskel Gabbay Award in Biotechnology and Medicine. The award, presented by the Rosenstiel Center of Brandeis University in Massachusetts, is in recognition of the recipients’ ‘contributions to the discovery and applications of optogenetics’. In addition to Gero Miesenböck, Karl Deisseroth of Stanford University and Edward S. Boyden of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are honoured.

Optogenetics is the technology which allows scientists to control the brain’s activity by genetically engineering neurons to fire in response to light. Gero Miesenböck laid the foundations of the field when he reported, in 2002, that he had genetically modified nerve cells 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 instead of via intrusive electrical connections. Miesenböck was also the first to use optogenetics to remote-control the behaviour of an animal.

Hundreds of scientists across the world now use optogenetics to manipulate brain activity in animals, exploring the neurobiology of phenomena such as decision-making and neurodegenerative diseases.

The Gabbay Award was created by the Jacob and Louise Gabbay Foundation and recognises scientists in academia, medicine, or industry whose work has outstanding scientific content and significant practical consequences. Optogenetics joins a long list of innovations in biotechnology and medicine that have been recognised by the annual award, among them the DNA microarray, the human genome sequence, the gene knock-out mouse, human assisted reproduction, and novel types of pharmaceuticals.

On Thursday October 10 the recipients of the Gabbay Award 2013 will present lectures on their work at a symposium and presentation ceremony at Brandeis University. The symposium takes place at 3:30 p.m. in the Shapiro Campus Center Theater and the lectures are free and open to the public.