By Morgan Montalvo
UTSA is taking possession of a next-generation microscope that will allow researchers to study the brain in minute detail, WOAI News reports.
The device is called a Two-Photon Holographic Microscope and employs two lasers, the first to illuminate and project or "write" programmed data onto brain cell neurons, and a second to record the responses.
Data collected via the process, says UTSA Professor Fidel Santamaria, will increase understanding of the nervous system, including how information is transmitted in the brain along pathway connectors called synapses, and could uncover some of the mysteries of brain-related disorders, including autism.
Each brain neuron contains about 10,000 synapses. "Autism is a developmental problem, a developmental pathology,” says Santamaria, who teaches biology and neuroscience. “There, what we believe that the connectivity, something is going wrong in the connectivity of the brain, in particular in the cerebellum.”
Viewing brain activity “at a very microscopic scale, almost at a single-cell level,” he says, can allow researchers to apply findings from animal brain cell studies to human brain neuron activity, perhaps by re-programming them to work more efficiently.
“We have this symphony of neurons, right in the cortex of the brain. How can we activate them in order to then all talk to each other at the same time, or how can we re-couple them, how can we make them just talk differently?
So, work together or independently,” Santamaria says.
Santamaria says the scope has applications beyond brain research, with other possible uses including studies into how plants transmit information chemically.
He says there are only about two dozen of the microscopes in existence, with each costing about $840,000. UTSA’s example was paid for in part with a National Science Foundation grant.
UTSA’s Two-Photon Holographic Microscope arrives in the spring.