(Oct. 8, 2018) -- It’s about the size of a dinner table; yet, one day may influence conversations held around the kitchen table. This is what excites researchers at UTSA as they anticipate the arrival of a state-of-the-art microscope. This device, known to a very select few, as a two-photon holographic microscope, will be used to write commands directly into neurons, including human, and get us closer to understand disorders such as Autism, which affects so many families in the United States today.
“It’s the Bentley of microscopes,” says Fidel Santamaria, an associate professor in the department of biology and computational neuroscientist at UTSA. “It’s built by hand, piece by piece.”
According to Santamaria, there are about two dozen of these microscopes in the world. The National Science Foundation and UTSA awarded close to $840,000 towards the technology. One main reason UTSA won is because the team, assembled by Santamaria, that will have access to the device is diverse, spanning a broad range of topics across multiple disciplines, with neuroscience the main focus.
It is estimated that a single neuron has about 10,000 synapses to communicate with another neuron, and yet much neuroscience is still focused on stimulating larger regions of the brain, known as bulk stimulation. According to Santamaria, this is a method with limitations that the new microscope will be able to address.
“In our case, we will have microscopic precision to activate specific pathways in the brain. Only when we have control and know the type of information that we are ‘writing in’ the circuitry of the brain and ‘read out’ the activity of the neurons, then we will be able to truly understand how the nervous system works,” says Santamaria.
In two-photon holographic microscopy, a powerful laser is used to project a movie in 3D of the researcher-programmed neural stimulation (or inputs) unto networks of neurons in living tissue. Simultaneously, a second laser is used to record the response of the neurons to this stimulation. Through this process, it will then be possible to determine how the nervous system, in health and disease, transforms inputs-into-outputs.
Obtaining this microscope required a multi-disciplinary team across the College of Science and Engineering. Santamaria collaborated with Gabriela Romero Uribe, from biomedical engineering, to secure the winning grant. The activities of this award will promote multi-disciplinary science communication proficiency of undergraduate and graduate students at UTSA. There will be opportunities for students to understand state-of-the-art microscopy techniques and build multi-media accessible information to be made available to the general public. The device will be a catalyst to promote interactions among groups across campus and serve other initiatives such as the Brain Health Consortium of UTSA.
This new technology will help understand how the contribution of incorrect wiring impacts the function of certain regions of the brain.
“We can activate the connections between neurons, known as synapses. More importantly, we can train neurons to respond to a specific pattern of synaptic activity. In that way, writing in a memory into the circuit,” says Santamaria.
UTSA is ranked among the nation’s top five young universities, according to Times Higher Education.
Visit Fidel Santamaria’s lab to learn more about an upcoming international symposium he is co-organizing taking place in San Antonio, where thought leaders will gather to develop new theories on brain function.
Learn more about the UTSA Neurosciences Institute.
Learn more about the UTSA Brain Health Consortium.
Learn more about Gabriela Uribe’s work.
All UTSA faculty, staff and students are invited to attend open forums featuring finalist candidates for the dean of the UTSA College of Sciences.Various Locations, Main Campus
UTSA is an early voting site for the statewide General Election.H-E-B Student Union Bexar Room (HSU 1.102), Main Campus
More than 75 local, state and national graduate and professional schools will showcase their programs at the Main Campus. It's free and open to the public. Interested attendees are encouraged to register for the event in advance.Sombrilla Plaza, Main Campus
UTSA Associate Professor of Anthropology Jill Fleuriet will moderate a neutral dialogue on what is and what is not protected as free speech, what constitutes hate speech and a university's role in supporting free speech on their respective campus.Student Union Retama Auditorium (SU 2.02.02), Main Campus
Hosted by the UTSA Office of Information Technology Student Innovation Coalition, Tech Talk is a forum for students to share thoughts about technology on campus with IT professionals and learn about products and services available to help them succeed.Student Union Denman Room (SU 2.01.28), Main Campus
UTSA Libraries will host Claudia García-Louis, assistant professor, at the Downtown Library for her presentation AfroLatinxs: Navigating Blackness and Latinidad in the Age of Trump, as part of the popular Pizza and Research series.Buena Vista Street Building Downtown Library (BVB 2.314), Downtown Campus
UTSA faculty, staff and students are invited to hear preliminary findings from the UTSA Campus Master Plan Discovery Survey and to offer students, faculty and staff another opportunity to provide input and ask questions about the initiative.Buena Vista Street Building Theater (BVB 1.326), Downtown Campus
UTSA faculty, staff and students are invited to hear preliminary findings from the UTSA Campus Master Plan Discovery Survey. The faculty and staff forum is from 11am-noon in the Harris Room and the forum for students is from noon-1pm in the Travis Room.H-E-B Student Union (HSU 2.212 and HSU 2.202), Main Campus