Researchers at the University of Strathclyde are part of an international study creating new photonic tools for accessing the deep brain, for the study and treatment of neurological diseases.

Strathclyde is the sole UK participant in DEEPER (Deep Brain Photonic Tools for Cell-Type Specific Targeting of Neural Diseases), which is investigating the deep-brain alterations underlying the origin of neurological and psychiatric diseases.

Researchers in Strathclyde’s Institute of Photonics and the Strathclyde Institute of Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences will be developing optoelectronic devices to interface with the brain. This will allow the use of light to stimulate neurons, to further understanding of dementia, depression, addiction, schizophrenia and chronic pain. Optoelectronics is the study and application of electronic devices and systems that source, detect and control light, usually considered a sub-field of photonics.

The four-year study involves 12 partners in eight countries, coordinated by Italian Institute of Technology, and has received funding of approximately €5.7 million from the European Union via the Horizon 2020 programme.

Professor Keith Mathieson, Director of Strathclyde’s Institute of Photonics and Royal Academy of Engineering Chair in Emerging Technologies, is a partner in the project. He said: “This project is making a big push to develop photonic technology for the benefit of neuroscience, in particular looking beyond cortical structures. You can already image the brain down to a depth of a few hundred microns; we want to go deeper than that.

“The technology we’re developing will be in the form of lightweight, minimally invasive optoelectronic probes to deliver light to neural circuits. The wider consortium will be developing light-sensitive proteins that can be activated by these devices and will allow the neuroscience teams to explore neural mechanisms, which are not as well understood as we would wish. 

“DEEPER is a very exciting project with a great mix of leading technologists and neuroscientists coming together. We hope it will translate to have real clinical impact and that the technology can spread across the wider scientific community.”

The DEEPER project will aim to augment the understanding of the causes of brain disorders, focusing on the anatomical and functional alterations occurring in difficult-to-reach deep regions of the brain. Researchers in the project will develop an entire new class of photonic devices and instruments exploiting light for imaging and manipulating the neuronal activity in deep brain regions with the highest resolution, penetration and specificity.

The new tools will be molecular optical sensors, minimally invasive brain probes, next generation microscopes and endoscopes that will use light both to acquire images of specific deep brain areas and to control brain electrical activity on selected portions of the central nervous system, in order to study dysfunctions at molecular and cellular level.


The international consortium will then use the newly developed technologies in a number of clinically relevant experiments, which will contribute to revealing the alterations underlying the origins of disorders. DEEPER technologists, neuroscientists, clinical and pre-clinical experts will transfer the technological results from laboratory to market, with the ambition of building a value chain with strong market impact in order to strengthen Europe’s industrial position in the biophotonics market.

Professor Mathieson is joined on the project by his Institute of Photonics colleague Dr Niall McAlinden, and by Dr Shuzo Sakata and Visiting Researcher Professor Christian Wozny, both of Strathclyde Institute of Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences.

The project is being co-ordinated at the IIT (Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia) Center for Biomolecular Nanotechnologies in Lecce. Other partners are: the Universities of Zurich, Geneva, Freiburg, Hamburg and Paris (Sorbonne); the Institute of Scientific Instruments of the Czech Academy of Sciences in Brno; the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel; the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia in Barcelona, and two companies, OptogeniX of Italy and Atlas Neuroengineering of Belgium.

Professor Mathieson’s core funding is from a Royal Academy of Engineering Chair in Emerging Technologies.