03 July 2010

New academic summary (update 4)

I just finished writing a new 'academic objectives' blurb for my university, Mendeley and Academia.edu profiles. Constructive criticism warmly welcomed.
I'm a DPhil (PhD) student in my final year at the University of Sussex (UK). I'm looking for a post-doctoral research position in the United States or Canada where I can continue working in electrophysiology and learn optogenetic techniques. I'm interested in how brains generate, select and maintain adaptive neural and behavioural activity. This process, particularly the often central role of dopamine-mediated reward-learning, is fascinating in its own right because it's intrinsic to how our lives develop, but its breakdown is also the hallmark of a wide range of psychiatric conditions in urgent need of effective medical treatment.
For my PhD I have developed a multielectrode technique to interface with a semi-intact invertebrate preparation and study the effects of sensory input, neuromodulators and electrical current on the brain's dynamic repertoire and adaptive output (Harris et al., 2010). Moving forward I want to learn techniques to interface with the mammalian brain and contribute to the development of models and technologies to help patients achieve adaptive neural and behavioural activity; control brain-computer interfaces for example or overcome maladaptive patterns of behaviour. I'm particularly interested in optogenetic photo-stimulation techniques, which have yet to reach clinical trials but already show extraordinary potential to address the theoretical and medical problems I want to work with, including dopamine-mediated reward-learning (e.g. Tsai et al., 2009; Bass et al., 2010).
References: Harris et al (2010) J Neurosci Methods 186:171-8. Tsai et al (2009) Science 324;5930:1080-4. Bass et al (in press) J Neurochem.


Anonymous said...

I don't know if this is the best place to say this, but I'll say it anyway. While I love the idea of being able to adjust my dopamine levels to change my behavior patterns, I don't think this idea will catch on for obvious reasons. Price, risk, and the common understandable fear of surgery(especially of the brain), implants & mind control. I personally would be willing to try a system for behavior so long as it were non-invasive, like a computer-controlled transdermal patch of some sort.

Christopher Harris said...

What do you mean by 'catch on'? iPlants are first and foremost for patients with a desperate need for self-discipline. All brain surgery requires a really desperate state, it's not for everyone. That said, I DO think we'll see a private brain surgery boom in the next few decades similar to plastic surgery but more popular because there are some implants almost everyone will want if they're safe, the key example being internet in your head. And if it's become clear how powerful and helpful iPlants can be, some people will chose those too.

I'm actually thinking about trying to acquire some funding to do a series of interviews to establish the legal and medical hurdles iPlants will have to overcome even for limited FDA or EC approval. As you may know, the technology and the surgical procedure is already well developed, the sticking point is this issue of a patient willingly giving a surgical team the right to withhold rewarding brain stimulation in all but a few carefully specified situations. It's new, it's unusual, it's a form of mind control and it would have to be kept very very safe. I guess at the end of the day I just see too many powerful, life-saving, health-improving applications of iPlants to think they will never get developed. But yea, I certainly don't think they're for everyone.

PS. A computer-controlled transdermal patch is not a bad idea, I'll have to think about that :)

Anonymous said...

While the iPlant may be designed for patients in desperate need for self-discipline, there isn't really any situation I can think of that would require deep brain stimulation as opposed to an alternative treatment that dbs isn't already used for. I'm not an expert, but I think that if you were to do a wide-spread survey, you'd fine that cosmetic surgery & surgery of vital organs isn't quite viewed the same way by most people. Both are expensive, and would have potential benefits, but the latter has far worse consequences for any risks. I'm simply saying that if you were able to devise a means of achieving similar results via a non or minimally invasive means, than the potential pricing, risks & consumer appeal would improve dramatically. I'm not saying that experimentation with the iPlant shouldn't be done, in fact I support you, it's just the notion of having an implant put into my brain makes me uneasy. (Especially if I were to have to do it again a second time to upgrade from the 3G internet implant to the 4G. ha ha ha)

Christopher Harris said...

But remember, DBS is expanding very rapidly as a treatment option, it's being explored for everything from anorexia to gambling addiction to obesity. Attempts to treat obesity by reducing hunger are particularly relevant to iPlants because if they fail then the iPlant approach involving conditional rewarding brain stimulation may be the next best option.