Internationally Recognized Leader in Biosensor Development to Join Jupiter’s Max Planck

October 16, 2023

Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience (MPFI) announces that neuroscientist Dr. Lin Tian has been appointed as its third Scientific Director. Tian joins current scientific directors, Dr. David Fitzpatrick and Dr. Ryohei Yasuda, to expand the institute’s work to develop new technologies for understanding the structure, function, and development of neural circuits. Dr. Tian has developed biosensors that enable researchers to better understand the role of dopamine and serotonin in the brain, providing critical insights into the regulation of brain circuits and behavior, and how they fail in brain disorders.

“Lin’s success reflects her exceptional strengths in molecular biology and her passion for taking high-risk novel technical approaches that have yielded powerful new discoveries,” said Dr. Fitzpatrick, who also serves as the organization’s CEO. “She also possesses a strong collaborative spirit–a genuine conviction that her research has the greatest impact when it advances lines of inquiry pursued by scientists with complementary expertise in areas such as neural circuit function and drug development.”

Dr. Tian brings an unrivaled passion for revealing the connections between brain function and behavior in healthy brains and in diseased states. Before MPFI, she served as Professor and Vice Chair in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Medicine at the University of California Davis School of Medicine. She will remain as a clinical professor at UC Davis in addition to her role at MPFI.

An advocate for open science and a leader in neuroengineering, Dr. Tian collaborates with neuroscientists around the globe to develop molecular tools for understanding and repairing the brain, actively disseminating her methodologies to the wider scientific community. Her lab pioneered the development of neuromodulator sensors, enabling the neuroscience community to challenge and refine established theories. Her work on developing new ways to screen fast-acting antidepressants without unwanted properties has also been featured in National Geographic, helping to bring her cutting-edge science to a wider audience.

Dr. Tian’s recent work focuses on developing a unifying theory to explain how neurotransmitters and neuromodulatory systems work together across scales, from molecules to behavior. This fundamental knowledge will support the development of novel, faster-acting therapeutics for neurologic and psychiatric disorders.

“Lin has been a pioneer in monitoring brain biochemical states – this gives an exciting new avenue to understand the interplay between neuronal circuits and biochemical information processing in the brain. Lin’s research will broaden the institute’s scientific ground and allow new perspectives on brain function,” said fellow Scientific Director Ryohei Yasuda.

The Neuroscience Behind Faster-Acting Therapies

Medications that target neuromodulatory systems—such as antidepressants—work quickly on a chemical level but often take weeks to provide symptom relief.

The Tian Lab creates tools such as optical biosensors, advanced imaging approaches, and human stem cell-based brain models that allow scientists to visualize and interpret brain computation, what goes wrong in diseased states, and test therapeutic outcomes.

Through these leading methods, the Tian Lab seeks to measure neurochemical release in healthy and diseased-state brains and explore how neural circuits function during behavior. This crucial research paves the way for scientists to design and screen drugs that provide more expedient relief from symptoms of neurologic and psychiatric disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease, depression, and addiction.

“The tools being developed in my laboratory have the potential to transform the way we study brain dynamics by precisely characterizing neurochemicals across time and space,” said Tian. “Through an interdisciplinary approach, we are working to create new methods for large-scale recordings of brain states and emotion. We hope that these inventions, coupled with collaborations with other researchers, may lead to valuable insights and a better understanding of the complexities of the brain.”

Education & Accolades

Tian received her doctoral degree in Biochemistry, Molecular and Cellular Biology from Northwestern University. She completed postdoctoral training at Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Janelia Research Campus. In her postdoctoral work, she played a critical role in developing the calcium sensor GCaMP, making it possible to optically measure the brain’s activity during behavior. This technological advancement has transformed the field of neuroscience, and her paper, published in the prestigious scientific journal Nature, has been cited more than 2,000 times.

Dr. Tian has received multiple awards and honors, including a White House Brain Initiative grant, an NIH New Innovator award, a W.M. Keck Foundation award, the Human Frontier Science Program Young Investigator Award, and has been named a Rita Allen Scholar. Dr. Tian has authored more than 50 peer-reviewed papers and holds multiple patents for optical sensors that enable researchers to visualize neuromodulators such as dopamine and serotonin, as well as predict the hallucination potentials of psychedelics in real time.

“I believe MPFI is a place to foster a culture of collaboration, innovation, and open science,” Tian said, “a diverse and inclusive community and network, where we dream big and are fearless to embrace challenges, where our collective efforts lead to revolutionary breakthroughs, make transformative impact across a broad spectrum of the scientific community, and most importantly, shape the future of humanity.”

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