CU Researchers win BRAIN Initiative Grant for Miniature Microscope

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Researchers from the University of Colorado’s Anschutz Medical Campus and the University of Colorado Boulder have won a $2 million grant to refine their unique microscope while expanding its use to other scientists across the country.

"We will deploy a fiber-coupled, two-photon miniature microscope to the laboratories of four users studying neural activity to understand vocal learning, decision-making, social interactions and neural development in various species," said Diego Restrepo, professor of cell and developmental biology and director of the Center for Neuroscience at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.

Restrepo, along with Emily Gibson, assistant professor of bioengineering at CU Anschutz; Juliet Gopinath, associate professor in electrical, computer and energy engineering at CU Boulder; and Victor Bright, professor of mechanical engineering at CU Boulder, have collaborated on the development of the microscope and share the grant. CU Anschutz's Baris Ozbay also helped create the microscope.

The $2 million grant, spread over three years, comes from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke as part of the NIH's new BRAIN initiative aimed at revolutionizing the understanding of the human brain.

The funds go to researchers developing innovative technologies that show how individual cells and complex neural circuits interact in both time and space. That knowledge aims to cure, treat and prevent brain disorders.

The microscope, known as the 2P-FCM, uses an electrowetting lens mounted on the head of a live mouse where a high-powered, fiber optic light can view and control neural activity as it happens. The liquid lens can change shape when electricity is applied.

"Our 2P-FCM is the only miniature, head-mounted microscope that provides dynamic focus capability in real time to image different brain areas and cells in different layers of the brain to get a more complete picture of neuron interactions," Gibson said. "This grant will allow us to take our proof-of-concept design that we have demonstrated in my lab and begin to disseminate it for widespread use in the neuroscience community."

The grant will allow the researchers to incorporate new holographic optogenetic stimulation into the microscope to record and modulate brain activity in awake animals. It also offers four other scientists the chance to use the microscope to study neural activities in animals besides mice: Richard Mooney, professor of neurobiology at Duke University, will study the neural basis of vocal learning in songbirds; Bijan Pesaran, associate professor of neuroscience at New York University, will examine decision-making in nonhuman primates; Ethan Hughes, assistant professor of cell biology at CU Anschutz, will study the dynamics of myelination; and Zoe Donaldson, assistant professor of behavioral neuroscience, molecular, cellular and developmental biology at CU Boulder, will investigate the neural basis of social bonding among prairie voles.

Published: October 2017
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