Leading Science: Magnifying the Mind

Brandeis Magnify the Mind

Written by Zosia Busé, B.A. ’20

Joshua Trachtenberg, graduated from Brandeis in 1990 and is a leader in studying the living brain in action using advanced imaging technology. After establishing his research laboratory at UCLA, he founded a company – Neurolabware – in order to build the sophisticated custom research microscopes that are needed to perform groundbreaking work in understanding how the brain develops and how diseases and injuries interrupt its normal functioning. His company is created by scientists and for scientists, and is unique in creating high quality microscopes that are easy to use but also have the flexibility to be used in creative ways in innovative experiments, and in combination with a variety of other devices.

Brandeis University is now seeking to acquire one of these advanced microscopes that can observe fundamental processes inside the living brains of animals engaged in advanced behaviors. The resonant scanning two-photon microscope from Neurolabware allows researchers to understand and image large networks of neurons in order to visualize which cells and networks are involved with specific memories or how these processes go awry in disease. “This approach is unparalleled. There is no other technique around that could possibly touch this,” Trachtenberg says.

Previous two-photon technologies permitted only very slow imaging, allowing scientists to take a picture about every two seconds, but the resonant two-photon technology is a major breakthrough that allows scientists to take pictures at about 30 frames per second. This speed increase is a major game changer. Not only can one observe activity in the brain at a higher speed, but it is possible to take pictures at a speed that is faster than the movement artifacts that must be accounted for, such as breathing or heart beats. Because one can see the movement, it can be corrected, allowing high resolution functional imaging of structures as small as single synaptic spines in the living brain. Further, advances in laser technology and fluorescent labels now allow scientists to see deeper into the brain than ever before, compounding the recent advantages of increased speed.

The new microscope will allow faculty and students to really expand their ideas and projects, making cutting-edge insights into brain functionality. One of the incredible perks to the microscope is that it is an open architecture platform, meaning students have the ability to explore creatively by having access to all filters, all photomultiplier tubes, all sensing devices and the open source code. They can readily reconfigure this to stay up-to-date and current as techniques evolve.

Assistant Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience, Shantanu Jadhav, conducts research on memory and studies the key networks and activity pathways in the brain that support the ability to form and recall memories. For Jadhav’s lab, the two-photon resonance microscope would allow for analysis of the different time-scales of memory. The brain is able to recall memories instantly, but those connections stay stable for days, months, and even years. By examining these time scales, they can improve their understanding of how activity patterns are affected in the short and long-run. He emphasizes this by saying, “[the microscope] would be a game-changer in our lab – not just my lab, but in connecting the research of all of the labs in the neuroscience department.”

Associate Professor Steve Van Hooser and his team of graduates and undergraduates work to unravel the fundamental mysteries of the brain and understand how the visual brain develops, both with and without experience, into a functioning system. With the two-photon microscope, they can take their research to the next level by examining how experience influences the responses of individual synapses on the dendrites of developing neurons, in order to understand how brain circuits are properly assembled.

Brandeis has one of the best neuroscience programs in the country. The resonant scanning two-photon microscope will enable Brandeis researchers to engage in groundbreaking, unprecedented research that will continue and expand upon the incredible work that is being done.

The Brandeis National Committee is a philanthropic organization, since 1948, that supports Brandeis University’s commitment to scholarship, justice and innovation. Their generosity has supported student scholarships, science research and the expansion of the Brandeis Libraries. The current Magnify the Mind Campaign, will ensure that Brandeis continues to produce cutting-edge neuroscience research. Their goal is to raise the funds over the next year to buy a high-speed two-photon microscope. Learn more and share with the science community at bit.ly/magnifybnc.

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