The HFSP Nakasone Award was established to honour scientists who have made key breakthroughs in fields at the forefront of the life sciences. It recognizes the vision of former Prime Minister Nakasone of Japan in the creation of the Human Frontier Science Program. The award consists of an unrestricted research grant of $10,000, a gold medal and a certificate.
Karl Deisseroth received the award at the 10th HFSP Awardees Meeting held in Kovalam, Kerala, India from October 31st to November 3rd. After receiving the award from HFSP President Prof. Akito Arima, he held the first Nakasone Lecture in front of an audience of approximately 220 HFSP awardees and guests.
Optogenetics allows the optical stimulation of specific classes of nerve cells engineered in a way that makes them sensitive to light, which is used as a stimulus to activate or inhibit their activity. His approach uses light-activated ion channels such as the channelrhodopsins obtained from algae. Neurons are modified by taking the gene for the opsin and inserting it into a virus, which is used to insert the gene into the nerve cells. Using specific targeting methods, the exogenous opsins can be inserted into specific neurons. In combination with sophisticated optical fibre technologies, optical stimulation, recording of neuronal activity and behavoural analysis can be combined to study the role of specific neuronal circuits in behavior.
Karl Deisseroth holds joint appointments as Associate Professor of Bioengineering and Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University. His pioneering work has been recognised by many prestigious awards, including from the Society for Neuroscience for his development of optogenetics, and from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.