Loading

The
K12
Engineering Education Podcast

« Previous · Next »

Tracing Brain Circuits for Mental Health

Latest Episode

Previous Episodes

Episode cover art

Engineering 101

Season 3 · Episode 3

You Might Also Like...

Description

Neuroscience research needs help from many fields, including engineering. Dr. Talia Lerner describes some of the engineering tools that she uses to study neural circuits in animal models, especially involving dopamine. She is a professor and basic science researcher at Northwestern University in Chicago, and she studies these circuits in the hopes of improving mental health diagnoses and treatments. Dr. Lerner also shares her thoughts on what doctors, scientists, and engineers will tackle in future neuroscience work.

Our closing music is from "Late for School" by Bleeptor, used under a Creative Commons Attribution License.

Subscribe and leave episode reviews wherever you get your podcasts. Support Pios Labs with regular donations on Patreon or by buying a copy of the reference book Engineer's Guide to Improv and Art Games by Pius Wong. You'll also be supporting educational tools and projects like Chordinates! or The Calculator Gator. Thanks to our donors and listeners for making the show possible. The K12 Engineering Education Podcast is a production of Pios Labs.

Transcript

Pius Wong  0:00 

We are talking about mapping the brain today, cell by cell, on The K12 Engineering Education Podcast.

 

Pius Wong  0:12 

Engineers help us explore the brain, explains Dr. Talia Lerner, a neuroscientist at Northwestern University. Dr. Lerner recently won a Young Investigator Award from the Brain and Behavior Foundation for her research on the basic biology of addiction, depression, and other mental health conditions. I'm Pius Wong, and had a chance to visit Dr. Lerner at Northwestern School of Medicine in downtown Chicago to talk about the engineering in her work, and to talk about her ideas about neuroscience in the future.

 

Pius Wong  0:45 

Dr. Talia Lerner, you are faculty at Northwestern School of Medicine, but you're not a medical doctor, right? You're a PhD.

 

Dr. Talia Lerner  0:57 

Yeah.

 

Pius Wong  0:59 

So how does that work? How can you work in a medical school and still do what you do?

 

Dr. Talia Lerner  1:03 

Yeah, so medical schools do a lot of basic science research, as well as clinical research and seeing patients. And so that's essentially my responsibility. It's to do basic studies in animals that hopefully eventually form medical interventions. But I don't touch patients because I don't have an MD. So we're just working with animal models.

 

Pius Wong  1:23 

So you work with other people to try and answer these questions.

 

Dr. Talia Lerner  1:26 

Yeah, and we would collaborate, for example, with people with MDs if we needed to get human samples or wanted to try to translate something into a clinic.

 

Pius Wong  1:32 

Okay. How would you describe the work that you do?

 

Dr. Talia Lerner  1:35 

Yeah, so it's interesting. I mean, I think people in general care about what, you know, mental functions and disorders that we're trying to understand. From my point of view, I'm really interested in neural circuits, and I'm trying to understand how neural circuits are set up to perform different basic functions. Mostly, the circuits that I've been investigating have to do with dopamine, which we know is important for diseases like depression and schizophrenia and autism and all these things. And part of my question is, how can there be so many different disorders that dopamine is involved in, that has such different systems, and yet they they relate back to this same chemical in our brain. And so trying to understand how that chemical actually participates in different types of processes and different neural circuits in the brain is part of the focus of my research.

 

Pius Wong  2:20 

In your research -- I learned way back in the day that -- we learned about neurotransmitters. Dopamine is one of them. There's seratonin. There is a bunch of stuff. I think a lot of people might have learned that back in the day, but you also use the word neuromodulators, and dopamine is an example of one. What's the difference? Or am I behind the times now?

 

Dr. Talia Lerner  2:38 

No, I think it's a totally fair question. I mean, it's probably one that scientists are asking themselves, because neuromodulator is not a super well defined technical term, but I basically think of it as -- so there are some neurotransmitters in the brain that are sort of fast, either excitatory or inhibitory neurotransmitter. So like, for example, glutamate is the main excitatory neurotransmitter in the brain. If a cell releases glutamate out to the next cell, it's going to excite that cell and cause it to fire action potentials. Things like dopamine and serotonin are neuromodulators, in the sense that they don't have that fast control over neuronal firing. What they tend to do is modulate other processes that the neuron is doing, to maybe up- or down-regulate the overall excitability of the neurons. So the likelihood that it will fire when another input comes in, or the propensity for that neuron to have its synapses change. So depamine is a very important regulator of synaptic plasticity. So if there's dopamine around, it might even not have an immediate effect, but change the propensity of that neuron to undergo a change when other inputs come in. And so that's why I kind of think of it as a modulator rather than a transmitter.

 

Pius Wong  3:47 

So it sounds like you're using that -- not just you, but people use that word because they don't quite know all the different things that it does. It's definitely a lot. It's not just on-off. Cells are not just turning on and turning off.

 

Dr. Talia Lerner  3:56 

Right. It's less straightforward than just the on-off relationship. It's more modulating the way a particular cell actually responds to those faster neurotransmitters. And that is important because it potentially changes the function of a circuit, is potentially a way for a neural circuit to kind of on-the-fly switch from performing one function to another function without, like, vastly changing synaptic structures instantaneously.

 

Pius Wong  4:22 

So that makes me think of one of the questions that I had listed down on my fancy paper here, but because a lot of engineers and engineering-interested people are listening, and me as an engineer, I'm always thinking, Okay, we taught ourselves -- we learned about circuits. And as a bioengineer, we learned about, you know, neural circuits, as well. Do you know -- like, how would you explain what the differences or similarities are between the biological circuits that you're studying and the circuits that people know of in their house or in their car?

 

Dr. Talia Lerner  4:51 

Right. I mean, I think people sometimes like to compare the brain to a computer, and it's an analogy that's apt up to a point, but also not. Our brains are not digital circuits that -- with ones and zeros. It's not binary, and that comes out in terms of thinking about things like the signaling cascades that are activated by neuromodulators, where a synapse isn't just on or off, right? The synapse can have a certain weight to it, and that weight can change, and that weight can change on different timescales. And so there's a whole, like, schmear of analog stuff that a synapse can do that, like, a node in a digital circuit isn't really capable of doing. On the other hand, you know, they are, basically --

 

Pius Wong  5:38 

Connections.

 

Dr. Talia Lerner  5:38 

Connections that are computing information.

 

Pius Wong  5:41 

The video on your website showing all the connections in 3D of your neurons --

 

Dr. Talia Lerner  5:45 

Right.

 

Pius Wong  5:46 

-- is really cool-looking, and it reminds me of some of the circuits that you might see in, like, a mechanical diagram. But it's still way more complicated in the brain.

 

Dr. Talia Lerner  5:55 

Right. And so, actually, it's an interesting point, because the method that we used to map those circuits is basically an on-off signal. So if a connection was detected by this viral method, then the neuron turns on a fluorescent marker. And then we see that, and we count it as like a positively labeled cell. But we're basically just counting, is a cell labeled, or is it not. And what that doesn't give us is any information about the strength of the synapse that we've detected. And so we use other techniques in the lab like electrophysiology to go back and actually look at the strength of the synapses in a sort of more directed way. Once we have that global picture of how the brain is wired, we can form more specific hypotheses about how we think things are working and going with tools that actually detect more nuance.

 

Pius Wong  6:48 

So that is a huge question. That tackles a huge area of questions that I want to ask about, the tools that you use, because engineers I'm sure are involved in making them, designing them. And I mean, I guess technically, your not an engineer. Or I mean, you're in neuroscience, so I assume it involves engineering and biology.

 

Dr. Talia Lerner  7:05 

Right. I think it's kind of inevitable for neuroscience these days to have some engineering bent to what they're doing. Part of the thing that I think drew me to neuroscience over other areas of biology is that it just is by necessity so interdisciplinary. Neuroscience is a field of science that's focused on understanding an organ, the brain, and the peripheral nervous system, rather than focus on using a particular technique. So like, if you said, you're a biochemist, you're basically saying, I'm using a particular set of techniques to understand various aspects of biology. But if you say you're a neuroscientist, you're saying, I'll use any technique just to understand the brain. And I think that's kind of interesting. It makes it a really interdisciplinary field to do research in. And in particular, like in the last ten years or so, there's been an explosion of technologies that allow us to see things in the brain that we just never could see before and do experiments we could never do before. So it's just like a really exciting time to be neuroscientist, but you have to keep up with the engineering aspect of the innovation in order to do some of these experiments. Yeah, so I would say like sort of more motivated by being a neuroscientist, but I'm by necessity also end up being somewhat of an engineer.

 

Pius Wong  8:15 

So you've got this end goal: I'm going to understand the brain. So I'm going to do whatever it takes, even if I don't like the computer programming.

 

Dr. Talia Lerner  8:21 

Right, exactly.

 

Pius Wong  8:22 

Like the psychological questionnaires. But you're going to do everything, the social science research, the computer science stuff, the biological. Whatever you have to do, you're going to do it all.

 

Dr. Talia Lerner  8:32 

Yeah, basically. Either, you know, in some cases with collaborators who have more expertise than us. But yeah, we're going to do what we need to do to try to chase down the biological questions of interest.

 

Pius Wong  8:44 

So what would you say are some of the more engineering-type tools that you use?

 

Dr. Talia Lerner  8:48 

Yeah, so I came from postdoctoral training with Karl Deisseroth at Stanford, who is both a bioengineer and a psychiatrist, so an MD and a PhD, and I went to his lab in part because of the tools that he's developed and that I could learn there. So two of the main things that he helped develop are optogenetics, and CLARITY. So optogenetics is an engineering tool for the brain where we can basically use genetic tricks to put light-sensitive proteins into neurons. And that makes those neurons able to be either turned on or turned off, or in some cases just modulated by different wavelengths of light.

 

Pius Wong  9:27 

Is that similar to when they used to put similar genes in bacteria, and they would glow or something?

 

Dr. Talia Lerner  9:34 

Yeah, it's exactly the same sort of recombinant DNA technology. So the GFP green fluorescent protein gene that won Nobel Prize a few years ago, it's the same principle. The sort of base protein that we've used and engineered improvements upon is a protein from algae. So algae react to light and use it to drive currents in their cells, and basically cloned an ion channel from algae that's responsive to blue light. And it allows positively charged ions to flow into the cell, which is something that we know in neurons, that turns them on. So sodium channels in neurons, that is what makes them fire action potentials. So essentially, we just took this algae protein, used genetic engineering to put it into the neurons. And now, when you shine a blue light, these ion channels open, positive ions can flow into the cell, and that turns the neuron on. And so what that allows us to do then is, like, pick out really specific types of cells that we want to turn on. Before we could do this only with electrodes, where it was all just about space. So you could put an electrode in and put an electric current in the brain, and that would turn on neurons that were, like, near the electrode. But the brain isn't necessarily organized spatially. There's lots of different cell types intermixed within a space. And so if you can use genetics instead to pick out only neurons within that space that have an interesting property to them -- that are wired up in a certain way or that express a certain genetic marker -- and then you can turn only those neurons on or off, then it just allows you to do much more precise experiments, in terms of the cell type you're investigating. And also because light is fast to turn on and off, you can do very temporally precise experiments, quickly turning neurons on and off.

 

Pius Wong  11:25 

That's really cool. And optogenetics, when I had seen that phrase, it was not something I ever studied in school. So that's cool. It sounds like a switch, like you would turn on or off a cell like that. And you also mentioned CLARITY as another tool. Is that related to that?

 

Dr. Talia Lerner  11:39 

So CLARITY is actually a totally different technique. It's something that we use on fixed tissue, so tissue that is not alive anymore that we've preserved with the fixative. But the cool thing about CLARITY is that we can fix the tissue into a hydrogel matrix. So you can just think of it as like a mesh grid, basically, that you've affixed all the proteins to. And once those proteins are fixed on this grid, you can suck all the lipids out of the tissue. And the lipids are the thing that are basically diffracting all the light, making the tissue look opaque. So once you get rid of the lipds, you have basically a clear brain, or whatever organ you're looking at. And that means that you can do imaging of large volumes of tissue without light diffraction or interference. Yes, you don't have to cut it up. We can we can image through an entire mouse brain just with a long working distance objective, because the tissue is quite clear. So it makes it possible for us to really examine 3d structures in a way that was very difficult before, and that's what allows us, for example, to do this -- make the whole-brain pictures that are on my website, where you can see, you know, if we're looking at, for example, all the inputs to dopamine neurons, we can just see in the whole brain and get a picture of where all those neurons are located within the brain. And we're using software actually developed by other people to make those images more quantitative now, and align them to a standardized atlas, and assign cells to different brain regions, and really make this into a, like, high-throughput pipeline, where we can go through a lot of different animals and try to look at how all their circuits are set up, and compare that to what the animals' behavior was.

 

Pius Wong  13:25 

Do you think they can use those same tools on human tissue? Or do they do that?

 

Dr. Talia Lerner  13:29 

Yeah, so CLARITY, like I said, is for fixed tissue. So you can't do it -- You couldn't do it as a live-imaging tool in humans, but it actually has turned out to work really well on fixed tissue from the brain. So there are actually pretty large brain banks with tissue preserved from people who donated their brains for research. And we can get the CLARITY technique to work on that tissue. So we can actually go back and look at people whose brains were diseased in various ways and try to see if we can understand something about those brains, which is cool.

 

Pius Wong  14:02 

I had read on your website -- maybe it was on your website or one of your papers -- a really cool phrase that stood out for me, because it reminded me of engineering principles. You had said something about wanting to study, like, the properties and organization of neural tissue. And it sounds a lot like how engineers always say we've got to study the form and the function of the things that we make. And I'm curious what comparisons you might make between the fields of engineering, and biology or engineering and neuroscience, I guess.

 

Dr. Talia Lerner  14:32 

Yeah, I think -- you know, engineering -- engineering and science are related but different pursuits, in that engineering, I kind of think of as, you have a goal of, like, a tool or a technique or something that you're trying to make possible, in mind that you're heading towards, and you try out all different solutions to get to that sort of fixed goal. Whereas science, I think, ends up being a lot more curiosity-driven. We're like, I have no idea what the answer to this question is. But I'm going to just, like, see what it is and start to develop a hypothesis as I go. So I think those are different, actually, ways of using technical skills to get at knowledge. But bioengineering is super relevant for neuroscience. Because, like, if I say, Well, I really want to know what this particular cell type in the brain does, but I have no way of doing it, then now I have an engineering question. How do I do that? How do I manipulate just this one cell type in the brain? So like, that's, for example, the engineering problem that optogenetics help to solve. And so, you know, I think there are just, like, people coming at neuroscience from both of those angles, from trying to ask biological questions, which is more what my lab is doing, and then, from the point of view of: Well, what do people need to try to answer those biological questions? And that's kind of what the neuroengineer people are doing.

 

Pius Wong  15:54 

Yeah.

 

Dr. Talia Lerner  15:54 

And they're synergistic, basically. The more tools they come up with, the more interesting questions we can come up with to ask those tools. And the more questions will be generated that need yet new tools in order to answer them. So as amazing as optogenetics is, for example, now people are starting to say, well, but you know, we need more spatial control. We need, you know, a finer ability to cause single spikes only in a certain order in a particular pattern. We need to be able to image the activity of neurons at the same time that we're doing those activations. Like, there are all these increased demands on this already incredible technique, as people get more and more sophisticated in the types of questions they can ask.

 

Pius Wong  16:36 

So where do you think we'll be in like 20 years when these teachers' students are already out in the field? Like, they're probably going to be interested in biology and engineering, in even social science and medicine, stuff like that. What questions do you think we're close to answering? And what questions are going to be those big, tough ones that we still have got to work on in this field?

 

Dr. Talia Lerner  16:58 

Yeah, you know, it's hard to predict. I think famously, you know, when students start medical school, they get told, like 50% of what's in their textbook will be proven wrong by the time they finish medical school. So I think the important thing for all of these types of education, especially in science, is: The main thing that we're trying to train you for is to be curious and to know how to structure a question. And from there, you basically have to continually keep learning in order to keep up. I think, you know, we always have these big questions of neuroscience that, who knows if we'll ever answer, like, What is consciousness? And do we really have free will? I'd say we're nowhere near actually answering those questions. But I think we're getting closer and closer to being able to really understand what's going on in a number of different psychiatric disorders. These are kind of interesting disorders to me because we have medicines that work at least okay. We have antidepressants, for example. We have anti-anxiety medications, but we really have no idea how to understand what effect those are having on the brain. I would say we do not understand, like, how an antidepressant actually works. And so I think the exciting thing is we're making progress towards really getting at how they work, but also what is depression? Are there different types of depression? Have we been not -- Have we been diagnosing it incorrectly? Are there subtypes we need to think about? And I think that sort of stuff is going to get more and more sophisticated, to the point where now instead of, if a depressed person right now goes to their psychiatrists and ask for medication, it's just -- it's basically trial and error. They just have to go through the list of medications, maybe based on some intuition that the psychiatrist has, and they, you know -- One thing doesn't work and they try another one and adjust the dose. And it takes many weeks, months, years to try to see if we can help these people. Sometimes people are resistant to all our attempts at treatment. And I think the hope that some of the research -- mine and others that people are doing now -- is that you could in the future go into your psychiatrist to say I'm depressed, and they could run more diagnostic tests on you. They could do brain imaging, or they could take a blood sample, or they could do any sort of neurological testing, or something to try to get at: Well, what type of depression do you have? Do you have a type of depression that will be responsive to Drug A or Drug B? And maybe we'll have new drugs to target new types of depression as we understand what those are.

 

Pius Wong  19:25 

Yeah, then the chemical engineers and bioengineers can get involved in that too, I'm sure.

 

Dr. Talia Lerner  19:29 

Right. Exactly. So once you even have an idea of, like, well, I've discovered this new type of depression, and it ought to be specifically responsive to this type of circuit manipulation, well, now let's get back to the engineers, right? Like, how do you do that second intervention in a human safely and effectively over a long period of time, right? Then that becomes again sort of a medical engineering question of how to implement it in humans.

 

Pius Wong  19:53 

How far do you think we are away from that being not just a hypothesis? Do we know that there are different types of depression that might be characterized by a different kind of circuit that you can see? Or is it just kind of like, we're just discovering this now? We don't know?

 

Dr. Talia Lerner  20:09 

I think we're just discovering it now. I think it's more of an intuition than anything else. But sometimes people talk about as, you know: Right now, if you look at the diagnostic criteria for depression, it's like you might sleep more, or less. You might have increased appetite, or decreased, right? Like, it seems like, well, this is very confusing. Basically, we're just saying something is wrong. You're not functioning properly, but we're not being very precise in terms of what's going on. I mean, to some extent, psychiatric diagnosis right now is the equivalent of saying, Well, you have a headache disorder or something, right? It's naming the symptoms, but it's not necessarily precise in terms of the underlying cause of those symptoms. And so I think that's the direction that we're starting to head, and hopefully we'll make progress on this. But we know, you know, we know different people are able to benefit more from certain types of antidepressants than others. The hypothesis then would be that's because there's underlying difference in the problem with their neural circuitry that's causing the depression in the first place. But we don't know what it is, so we're trying to figure it out.

 

Pius Wong  21:14 

Stay curious and discover, I guess.

 

Dr. Talia Lerner  21:16 

Yeah.

 

Pius Wong  21:20 

Hey, Pius here. I just want to take a short break to express my deepest gratitude, once again, to all the donors who support this show on Patreon, and who support the show in other ways, too. You make this podcast possible, so thank you so much.

 

Pius Wong  21:48 

If people wanted to learn more about your lab and the specific work that you do on the tools you use, or just depression research, addiction research, how can they find you?

 

Dr. Talia Lerner  21:58 

People can look up my website, which is lernerlab.org and learn about us a bit there. And yeah, anyone is -- Feel free to email me questions.

 

Pius Wong  22:09 

You don't have to offer that. [laughs]

 

Dr. Talia Lerner  22:10 

Maybe I shouldn't offer that before I get inundated. [laughs]

 

Pius Wong  22:13 

It it's okay, I'll put like the link to the Lerner Lab.

 

Dr. Talia Lerner  22:17 

Yeah.

 

Pius Wong  22:17 

If people want to read your articles or something.

 

Dr. Talia Lerner  22:20 

Yeah, people are totally free to read my website. Another actually -- Something that I used to write for in my postdoc that I think is great is: There's a Stanford Neuroblog that I wrote some articles for, but you know, people continue at Stanford, students and postdocs, to write for that. And I think there are some other -- There's like something called Berkeley Science Review. There's a podcast put out by a UCSF student called Carry the One Radio that's really good.

 

Pius Wong  22:49 

All about neuroscience.

 

Dr. Talia Lerner  22:50 

Yeah. So there's a lot of, I would say, accessible forms of science communication, and especially students and postdocs, I think, are trying to put out there and make some of these things more accessible hopefully.

 

Pius Wong  23:05 

That's awesome. And I just realized I skipped a big question that I should have asked you when I had heard it. You had mentioned a virus-based technology for tracing cells. And I totally wanted to ask you about that, and I feel like engineers are involved in that.

 

Dr. Talia Lerner  23:19 

Yeah.

 

Pius Wong  23:20 

What is that? And I understand you use the rabies virus?

 

Dr. Talia Lerner  23:24 

Yeah, that's a really cool technique. So, rabies virus. Part of why it's scary is because it's able to travel through our neural circuits and kill neurons along the way. So normally, how you get rabies, you get btd on the finger by, say, a bat with rabies. And the rabies virus actually tracks back up to your central nervous system by jumping retrogradely through synapses. So it uses your sensory neurons that are projecting down in your finger to jump back through the nervous system to get into your central nervous system. So that's bad for us, but we can use that property of rabies to actually trace neurons. So if we want to know which neurons are connected to a certain type of circuit of interest, the rabies virus is really good at jumping back through those synapses. So, the engineered rabies virus that we use is changed in a couple of important ways. So it's engineered so it can only jump back one synapse, so it doesn't keep going. And the way that we do that is, it depends on a glycoprotein that it makes to jump the synapses. So we make a version of the virus that does not have that glycoprotein, and then we provide it in a separate virus. So it can only -- It has a glycoprotein in the cell that it starts replicating in and can jump back one synapse from there, but then it doesn't have the glycoprotein anymore after it jumps into the next neuron. And so it can't jump any more synapses. So it's restricted to one synapse. And then the other change that we can make to it is, we can actually change the surface protein that it expresses, that it uses to infect cells, and replace it with a receptor that's -- or a surface protein that can only attach to a receptor that birds have but mammals don't. So that way, if this virus is injected into a mammal, like us, or a mouse, it can't infect any neurons, because we don't have this receptor that birds do. But we take the bird receptor, and we can put it genetically specifically into only certain cells in the mice. And then the rabies virus can infect only those cells and trace only from those cells. So we make it very specific in terms of which cell it infects first and how many synapses it can jump, and then it becomes a very precise tool for mapping neural circuits.

 

Pius Wong  25:43 

You said that as if, like, Oh, this is just a thing that happened, but I heard, like, twenty different engineering/biology problems in order to make that possible.

 

Dr. Talia Lerner  25:52 

Right. There's a lot of steps, both of understanding how the virus, itself, works, and kind of splicing in all these genes from different organisms.

 

Pius Wong  26:00 

And you said "we make," so that's your lab?

 

Dr. Talia Lerner  26:03 

No. So the kind of original, I guess, engineered rabies virus was made by Ed Callaway's lab and Ian Wickersham. And then it's been improved upon or added to in various ways. So this is another thing. It's like, once you have a base technique, there's lots of ways you can start adding on to it. And so one thing that I worked on in my postdoc was: We made it so -- We wanted to trace from cells not based necessarily on a genetic identity like a molecular marker, but based on their output projection targets. So I wanted to trace dopamine neurons that only projected to a particular part of the striatum that I was interested in. And so we added in another virus that could infect the axons of neurons in the striatum, traced back to the dopamine neurons in the midbrain, and use that virus to express the things that rabies needs to express, and then inject the rabies, and now the rabies tells you cells that input to cells but output to somewhere else. So it gives you information both about inputs and outputs of neurons, which I think is really interesting.

 

Pius Wong  27:17 

Yeah, no, it totally is. And I can imagine there must be some flowcharts somewhere saying which connections go where, and it looks just like an electrical diagram--

 

Dr. Talia Lerner  27:25 

Right.

 

Pius Wong  27:25 

-- when you're talking about it. And it sounds dangerous. Is that not true? I know that you say you put in these markers to prevent it from jumping to the mammalian tissues. I'm just curious, like, what do people think about it?

 

Dr. Talia Lerner  27:39 

Yeah, it's not, um -- It's not crazy risky. We take safety precautions, obviously. So we handle the virus with gloves and lab coats and eyewear and things. It's a research lab. So we try not to expose ourselves to the virus, but it's relatively unlikely that it would actually cause a problem, because it is engineered in these ways that make it unable, for example, to infect mammalian cells, in theory. It's still like, for example, recommended if you accidentally inject yourself with even this modified rabies virus that you would go to the hospital and get a rabies vaccine. But overall, the risk is not insanely high. It's biosafety level two, which means most research labs can do it with, like, you know, basic training precautions. There's no huge hazmat suit required or things like that.

 

Pius Wong  28:37 

That's really interesting, because it does remind me of also the engineering labs where, like, even a lathe is dangerous if you don't know how to use it. I would assume it's the same thing for biological tools. It's dangerous if you don't protect yourself.

 

Dr. Talia Lerner  28:48 

Right. It's just important, basically, to know the proper ways to protect yourself, but assuming those precautions are taken, it doesn't make me too nervous.

 

Pius Wong  28:55 

So all the teachers listening, they can teach their kids safety precautions, and that would be a good skill. Okay, I know I ended in a very specific question there. But thank you so much again, Dr. Talia Lerner, and I hope to learn more about what you do over time.

 

Dr. Talia Lerner  29:14 

Thanks a lot.

 

Pius Wong  29:19 

Thanks again to Dr. Talia Lerner, a professor at Northwestern University in the Department of Physiology. Check out some of the cool images that she makes of neural circuits at her lab's website. Links are in the show notes. For more information on any of the people, concepts or terminology you heard in today's conversation with Dr. Lerner, check the show notes, or just visit the podcast website, k12engineering.net.

 

Pius Wong  29:50 

Remember to subscribe to the podcast to stay up-to-date on engineering education discussions. Find us on iTunes, SoundCloud, the Public Radio Exchange, or any other podcast platform. Leave me some comments and reviews, too, if you feel so bold. Tweet the show @K12Engineering, or tweet me @PiusWong. Get more show notes and transcripts at the regularly updated website: k12engineering.net.

 

Pius Wong  30:19 

Our closing music is from "Late for School" by the artist Bleeptor, used under a Creative Commons Attribution License. The K12 Engineering Education Podcast is a production of my independent studio Pios Labs. Support Pios Labs with regular contributions by going online to patreon.com/pioslabs. You can also just buy me a coffee. Links on how to do that are on the website and in the show notes. Thank you all for listening, and please join us next time.