The complexity of neural circuits has posed tremendous challenges for treating neurological and psychiatric disorders. Optogenetics is a technique that relies on rhodopsin proteins which transport ions across the cell membrane in response to light for the control of neural activity and has the potential to revolutionize neuroscience and medicine by addressing some of these challenges. While optogenetics has already contributed to our understanding of Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, stroke recovery, seizures, addiction, psychiatric disorders, and numerous social behaviours, there are impediments to this technique and several issues preventing its adoption in clinical applications.
Dr. Harris’ PhD research in Biophysics at the University of Guelph in Guelph, Ontario, Canada, focused on the identification and characterization of a new group of unusual inward-proton pumping rhodopsins from Antarctica. For his postdoctoral work based at the Weizmann Institute of Science, he will leverage his knowledge of rhodopsins to expand the capabilities of optogenetics in collaboration with a microbial ecology lab at the Technion and a computation chemistry lab at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. As part of this Center of Excellence, funded by the Israel Science Foundation, Dr. Harris will characterize novel rhodopsins and expand on bioluminescent optogenetics to provide the community with a rich set of tools that will open new avenues in neuroscience and medicine.
Dr. Harris hopes this research will lead to a better understanding of brain function and disease management and help to alleviate some of the barriers to clinical application. He plans to expand the field of optogenetics in Canada and hopes the Zuckerman fellowship will open the door to quality research collaborations between Canada and Israel.