Deisseroth receives Harvey Prize in Human Health

Karl Deisseroth
Karl Deisseroth

KARL DEISSEROTH, professor of bioengineering and of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, has been awarded the 2016 Harvey Prize in Human Health.

Deisseroth and PETER HEGEMANN, professor and chief of biophysics at the Humboldt University of Berlin, will share the $75,000 prize for their contributions to optogenetics.

“It is a great honor to receive the Harvey Prize in Human Health, which has a long and distinguished history in recognizing basic science discoveries, and I’m delighted to share the prize with my co-laureate and collaborator Peter Hegemann,” Deisseroth said.

Optogenetics entails the installation of light-sensitive proteins, called opsins and derived from microbial organisms, into specific cells in a living, freely moving mammal. These cells can be either excited or inhibited by laser light, which is delivered via an implanted optical fiber.

The ability to turn on or turn off electrical activity in a set of cells in the brain allows researchers to gain insights into the causal mechanisms behind the organ’s normal workings, as well as defects in function that accompany brain disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, depression and schizophrenia. Optogenetics has also been used to turn on and off electrical activity in heart and kidney cells and in other tissues.

The Harvey Prize, established with money from the estate of industrialist and inventor Leo Harvey, recognizes researchers who have made breakthroughs in science and technology of benefit to humanity. Optogenetics has “revolutionized neurobiology,” the prize administrators wrote.

Deisseroth will accept the prize in June at the Technion–Israel Institute of Technology.