To enable the understanding and repair of complex biological systems such as the brain, we are creating novel optical tools that enable molecular-resolution maps of large scale systems, as well as technologies for observing and controlling high-speed physiological dynamics in such systems.
When hearing fails, cochlear implants (CIs) provide open speech perception to most of the currently half a million CI users. CIs bypass the defective sensory organ and stimulate the auditory nerve electrically. The major bottleneck of current CIs is the poor coding of spectral information, which results from wide current spread from each electrode contact. As light can be more conveniently confined, optical stimulation of the auditory nerve presents a promising perspective for a fundamental advance of CIs. Moreover, given the improved frequency resolution of optical excitation and its versatility for arbitrary stimulation patterns the approach also bears potential for auditory research. Developing optogenetic stimulation for auditory research and future CIs requires efforts toward design and characterization of appropriate optogenetic actuators, viral gene transfer to the neurons, as well as engineering of multichannel optical CIs. The presentation will summarize the current state of optogenetic stimulation of the auditory pathway and report on recent breakthroughs on achieving high temporal fidelity and frequency resolution and establishing multichannel optical CIs.