‘Science 2015—Unleashed!’ Celebrates Exceptional Research, Innovative Technology

University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences Media Relations


A psychiatrist and scientist who developed new techniques that are now widely used to examine the activity of neurons in the living brain will receive the University of Pittsburgh’s 2015 Dickson Prize in Medicine during “Science 2015 – Unleashed!” The event, which will be held Oct. 7 to 9 at Alumni Hall in Oakland, highlights the region’s academic and research strengths in science, engineering, medicine and computation.

At 11 a.m., Thursday, Oct. 8, Karl Deisseroth, M.D., Ph.D., D.H. Chen Professor of Bioengineering and professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, Stanford University School of Medicine, will deliver the Dickson Prize Lecture, titled “Optical and Chemical Tools for High-Resolution Investigation of Intact Biological Systems.”

Dr. Deisseroth and his colleagues created a technology called optogenetics, which uses light to precisely control millisecond-scale activity in certain cell types in the brains of mammals. The approach allows researchers to study how neuronal activity gives rise to behavior in freely moving mammals. A practicing psychiatrist, Dr. Deisseroth also has used optogenetics to study aspects of depression, anxiety, reward and motivation in animals.

In an April 2013 issue of the journal Nature, Dr. Deisseroth described his lab’s technique for turning a brain transparent. The process, which he named CLARITY, uses a detergent to strip away lipids that normally block the passage of light, allowing researchers to view large networks of neurons with unprecedented ease and resolution.

Other renowned scientists also will deliver plenary lectures at Science 2015:

Provost Lecture, 4 p.m., Thursday, October 8
  • “Life Redesigned: The Emergence of Synthetic Biology,” presented by James J. Collins, Ph.D., Henri Termeer Professor of Medical Engineering and Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Dr. Collins employs synthetic biology to create designer probiotics that can combat and prevent infectious diseases. For example, his lab engineered Lactobacillus gasseri—the agent that turns milk into yogurt—to detect cholera bacteria in the intestine and produce antimicrobial peptides to kill them.
Mellon Lecture, 11 a.m., Friday, October 9
  • “A Molecular Arms Race: The Immune System versus HIV,” presented by Pamela J. Björkman, Ph.D., Max Delbrück Professor of Biology, California Institute of Technology. Dr. Björkman’s lab explores the structural mechanisms of major histocompatibility complex proteins, as well as the therapeutic uses of antibodies and their receptors. Her lab has solved the structure of more than 50 proteins and complexes.
Klaus Hofmann Lecture, 4 p.m., Friday, October 9
  • “Epigenetics at the Intersection of Genes and the Environment in Common Human Disease,” presented by Andrew P. Feinberg, M.D., M.P.H., King Fahd Professor of Molecular Medicine, and director, Center for Epigenetics, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Dr. Feinberg made the first discoveries of altered DNA methylation in human cancer, discovered human imprinted genes and loss of imprinting in cancer, and proved the epigenetic hypothesis of cancer through his research on Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome.

Science 2015’s Science as Art exhibition recognizes the artistic element hidden within scientific pursuits to create a unique and thought-provoking display. This year’s theme is “fighting cancer,” showcasing the winning entries from a University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI) competition. The works, which capture intercellular battlefields as captivating visual pieces, will be on permanent display at UPCI’s Hillman Cancer Institute in the near future.

Spotlight sessions include presentations on “Scientific Serendipity;” “Inflammation: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly;” “Stuff You Can’t See,” such as why an itch makes you scratch; and an inaugural “Brain Day” component on neuroscience sponsored by the University of Pittsburgh Brain Institute.

Science 2015 also includes presentations by some of Pittsburgh’s leading researchers, exhibits, poster sessions, a career development workshop and a new technology showcase, all of which are intended to demonstrate that research can be a catalyst for regional economic development; foster collaboration among academic and industrial scientists; and promote the idea to the public that science can be interesting, exciting and fun.

The event is free and open to the public. To register for the event, go to http://www.science2015.pitt.edu/register.htm.