23. May 2023

Laureate 2023 - Edward S. Boyden

The Wilhelm Exner Medal was already awarded to him in 2020, but the handover was prevented by the well-known travel restrictions. Finally, on 22-24 May, he is coming to Vienna for the Exner Lectures.

He is an American neuroscientist at MIT.

He is the Y. Eva Tan Professor of Neurotechnology, a faculty member of the McGovern Institute for Brain Research, and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator.

Edward S. Boyden’s group works to develop new tools for the analysis and engineering of brain circuitry. He uses a range of approaches, including synthetic biology, nanotechnology, chemistry, electrical engineering and optics, to develop tools that can reveal the fundamental mechanisms of complex brain processes. He is known for his work in inventing optogenetics and expansion microscopy.

His work is widely applied in industry, as well as in his own start-up companies such as Cognito Therapeutics and Expansion Technologies.


Abstract of his laureates lecture:

The brain is perhaps the most complex thing we know of. It generates our thoughts and feelings, and makes us who we are. Understanding how the brain generates the mind is fundamental to understanding the human condition. And, diseases of the brain affect over a billion people worldwide — none of which can be fully cured.

To understand, and repair, the brain, requires new technologies to be invented and applied. Expansion microscopy (ExM) is a tool, developed by the Boyden lab at MIT, that enables the brain to be mapped. The reason that mapping the brain is difficult is that the brain is made of many cells, called neurons, that are connected by thin, wire-like projections, that terminate in tiny junctions called synapses — all too small to be imaged with ordinary technology. In ExM, brain specimens are infused with a chemical much like the material in baby diapers. Upon adding water, the diaper material swells, making the brain bigger by 100x in volume or more.

Amazingly, this process of expansion is even, preserving nanoscale detail, and making such detail larger and thus more easy to see. After expansion, the brain can be mappedwith inexpensive, commonly available imaging devices. ExM is enabling brain circuits to be mapped, which could enable new treatments for brain diseases to be invented. ExM-powered mapping of the brain may also reveal how information flows through, and is transformed by, the brain, enabling the creation of new kinds of artificial intelligence. Because early detection of all diseases, not just brain diseases, could help save lives, many people are investigating using ExM to detect diseases early. By taking a biopsy from a patient, and physically magnifying it through ExM, the small changes that occur early in a disease can be physically enlarged, making them easier to detect by doctors.

ExM is in use around the world to advance biological and medical investigations, and Boyden has co-founded a company to help improve and apply the technology for specific problems.