Speaker Insight Series: Adam Cohen

Adam CohenAlmost all of us know someone who has been affected by a disease of the nervous system. And yet, in most cases, there has not been an effective treatment for them. These diseases, ranging from childhood autism to mid-life depression to neurodegenerative diseases like ALS, cause tremendous amounts of suffering, strain, and disruption. In fact, neuronal diseases are one of the dominant causes of disability in the developing world.

2015 Fall speaker Adam Cohen is working to fight this. As a professor in the departments of Chemistry and Chemical Biology and Physics at Harvard University, he is working to change the process of treating diseases of the nervous system so that it is no longer based on trial-and-error.

The defect in neuronal diseases is much more subtle than in other diseases. In these instances the tiny electrical blips that encode our thought are misregulated. The main issue is that the little electrical blips in the brain are invisible, making it impossible to directly observe the activity of the neurons. However, Adam and his team have invented a technology that enables them to visualize the electrical impulses in human neurons, in both health and disease, under resting conditions or in the presence of drugs.

Derived from a Dead Sea microorganism, the protein they engineered can convert cellular electricity into flashes of fluorescence. Through the combination of these two technologies one can visualize the electrical activity in the neurons derived from anybody and see how these neurons respond to drugs.

One of the longest-standing dreams in neuroscience is the idea of making neurons light up when they fire. We can now do this, and Adam will be discussing the implications of this innovations with the TEDxCambridge 2015 Fall guests.