Why do we need basic research?
In neurobiology, many mechanisms and processes that take place in the brain are still largely unknown. The researchers at the LIN are therefore striving to gain new insights in the different areas and use different technical methods and conceptual approaches.
All applied research - for example the development of a drug - is based on basic knowledge. Only if you know how a disease develops you can treat it. It is therefore the task of basic research to elucidate the underlying mechanisms without directly targeting a therapeutic application. Only with a fundamental understanding of what happens in a disease can applied research look for effective substances in a targeted manner. Accordingly, basic research is the prerequisite for application-oriented developments and technical innovations.
We would like to show two examples of how basic research at the LIN also makes a contribution to the applied field:
CortiGrid - a bidirectional optoelectronic brain interface
Dr. Michael Lippert, head of the Neuro-Optics working group at the LIN, Prof. Dr. Frank Ohl, head of the Systems Physiology of Learning department, and Martin Deckert, member of the Department of Microsystems Technology at Otto-von-Guericke-University Magdeburg, have developed CortiGrid. CortiGrid is a foil electrode with LEDs which can activate superficial structures of the brain, like the cortex, and thus address areas of the brain that control sensory perception.
"Optogenetics is a method that enables us to achieve more specific stimulation than electrical methods," explains Lippert. "Optogenetic gene therapy makes the brain sensitive to light. We then use a pattern of novel microscopic LED light sources to inscribe highly complex information into the brain. At the same time, we can use electrodes to measure brain signals and use them to optimally tune stimulation." Until now, this bidirectional method has only been used in rodents.
By using these technology, the researchers hope to be able to restore the perception of blind or deaf people in the future and to help people who, for example, have sensory disorders following paraplegia. The method could also be used in the optogenetic therapy of epilepsy.
LINCam - an ultra-sensitive time-resolving research camera
The team of Dr. Werner Zuschratter, Dr. Yury Prokazov and Evgeny Turbin from the Special Lab Electron and Laser Scanning Microscopy has developed over many years of research a sensitive camera with a particularly high temporal resolution. "Cells and tissues tolerate only a certain amount of light. If you use too much of this light, you damage this valuable biological material while you are watching it. However, our camera has such a sensitive sensor that it is the only system that can generate images below this critical light level," explains Zuschratter. The LINCam operates below the threshold of 100 mW/cm², which is harmful to living cells, and continuously measures the arrival of individual photons with a time resolution of 50 ps.
The camera could be used in bio-medical diagnostics to distinguish between healthy and diseased tissue. But there are also applications in environmental research, astronomy or materials science.
The LINCam is the advance development of a laboratory model for which the team was awarded the Hugo-Junkers Prize in 2013 for the most innovative basic research project. The research camera has been marketed from 2018 by the spin-off Photonscore GmbH.