Zeiss and University of California partner on neurotechnology tools

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The University of California, Berkeley, has opened the Brain Microscopy Innovation Center (BrainMIC), as part of a new public-private partnership with Zeiss Microscopy. The new centre, which opened its doors at the end of May, will provide the technology and training required to make new optical tools accessible to the broad neuroscience community.

Research into the human brain has stepped up recently, following the launch of the BRAIN initiative (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) in the United States in 2013. The programme was launched to revolutionise understanding of the human brain, and help researchers uncover the mysteries of such brain disorders as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, depression, and traumatic brain injury.

In September 2014, a further $300 million of funding was announced for the BRAIN initiative, $30 million of which was committed to the US photonics industry for the development of new optics and photonics technologies. Three grants were awarded to the University of California, Berkeley, at this time, totalling nearly $7.5 million over three years.

The BrainMIC will help fast-track the commercial developments of new microscopes, optical components, and analysis methods.

During the partnership, UC Berkeley researchers will offer feedback on any new or special neurotechnology needs in order to help Zeiss produce future products best suited for the newest advances in neuroscience research endeavours. The BrainMIC will also run an annual course to teach researchers how to use the new technologies.

Berkeley researchers will work with Zeiss technical specialists to build new hardware capabilities into the existing microscopes from Zeiss, including a multiphoton confocal microscope, a light sheet imaging system with special optics for cleared tissue samples, and a digital slide scanning system. These new imaging systems will be standardised for production and will ultimately become available for purchase.

‘There has been a rapid advance in the optical tools available to detect and control neuronal activity and synaptic transmission. These powerful tools are an important and exciting step toward deciphering the neuronal circuits that command essential brain functions, such as perception, movement, and memory,’ commented Holly Aaron, manager of the BrainMIC.

‘However, for these tools to yield breakthrough discoveries there is a need for commercially available microscopes that are optimised for use with emerging neurotechnologies. Zeiss’ participation will help us meet that need,’ Aaron continued.

As a result of this new partnership, the BrainMIC will help fast-track the commercial developments of new microscopes, optical components, and analysis method.

James Sharp, president of Zeiss Microscopy, added: ‘I am very excited about the partnership and looking forward to discussions about the types of research UC Berkeley is pursuing and helping researchers use the equipment to its fullest capabilities, while at the same time helping Zeiss to increase our capabilities.'

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Shedding light on the brain: Initiatives like the BRAIN programme in the USA are investing large amounts of funding into research into the human brain, an area where advanced optical and photonics technologies are highly sought after. Jessica Rowbury reports

Further information

UC Berkley opens the Zeiss Brain Innovation Center (BrainMIC)