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One of the students flipped a switch and intense blue light shone through the cable into the mouse’s brain, illuminating it with an eerie glow. Instantly, the mouse began running in counterclockwise circles as though hell-bent on winning a murine Olympics.
Then the light went off, and the mouse stopped. Sniffed. Stood up on its hind legs and looked directly at the students as if to ask, “Why the hell did I just do that?” And the students whooped and cheered like this was the most important thing they’d ever seen.
Because it was the most important thing they’d ever seen. They’d shown that a beam of light could control brain activity with great precision. The mouse didn’t lose its memory, have a seizure, or die. It ran in a circle. Specifically, a counterclockwise circle.
Over at MIT, Boyden was asking the obvious question: Would this work on people? But imagine saying to a patient, “We’re going to genetically alter your brain by injecting it with viruses that carry genes taken from pond scum, and then we’re going to insert light sources into your skull.” He was going to need some persuasive safety data first.