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Boyden Awarded Inaugural International Prize

LONDON, May 2, 2012 — Professor Ed Boyden received the first international A. F. Harvey Engineering Research Prize from the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) for his pioneering research in medical engineering.

The £300,000 (approximately $485,000) award will be given annually to exceptional individual researchers for their achievements and promising future research. The prize money will be used to support further investigations led by the recipient in specific areas of engineering and technology.

Boyden leads the Synthetic Neurobiology Group at MIT, which develops tools for controlling and observing the dynamic circuits of the brain. He uses neurotechnologies to understand how cognition and emotion arise from brain network operation, and how brain disorders can be repaired.

He has developed genetically encoded molecular tools that, when expressed in defined sets of neurons in the brain, enable them to be electrically activated or silenced using light pulses. These optogenetic tools — proteins known as opsins — serve photosynthetic or photosensory roles, transforming light into electrical signals.

Boyden will use the prize money to exploit his advances in optogenetics to detect and suppress epileptic seizures.

“Over the last several years, we’ve developed a suite of molecular tools that make neurons activatable or silenceable by pulses of light,” Boyden said. “These tools are in widespread use in science because they let you turn brain cells on or off, thus revealing what the cells do in the brain. We’re eager to keep expanding this toolbox, and also to help figure out clinical uses for the tools as novel therapeutics.”

Boyden will receive his prize from professor Lord Winston and give a lecture about his optogenetic research June 19 at the IET: Savoy Place in London.

For more on his research, see: Optogenetics: A Conversation with Ed Boyden

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