Researchers have long been using the field of optogenetics, a biological technique involving the use of light to control cells in living tissue, typically neurons, which have been engineered to express light-sensitive ion channels. By doing this, it is hoped they could one day develop new treatments for diseases by correcting the miscommunications occurring between cells. However, optogenetics to date has not addressed malfunctions in genetic blueprints which guide human growth and underlie many diseases.
Controlling genes wirelessly
Now, a study from researchers at Buffalo University wirelessly controls a gene known to play a key role in human development from embryos to adults using a technique known as optogenomics, the control of the human genome using laser light and nanotechnology. The team states the ability to manipulate the gene could lead to new cancer treatments, and ways to prevent and treat mental disorders such as schizophrenia. The opensource study is published in the journal Proceedings of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.
Previous studies show controlling the expression of genes and ultimately their resultant proteins are of great interest to the global research community, with a view to controlling biological processes and disease with the flick of a light switch.
Breakthroughs in the field of stem cell biology, optogenetics, and bio-photonics have enabled the control and monitoring of biological processes through light. However, the majority of studies rely only on conventional optical sources and detectors, which, due to their size, limits the applications of light-mediated bio-interfaces. The current study utilizes optogenomics to control light-sensitive proteins in recombinant brain tissue via wireless nano-laser devices to affect neural development.
Nanotechnology hacks genes
The current study manipulates the Fibroblast growth factor receptor 1 (FGFR1) gene using nanophotonic brain implants, wireless devices which include nano-lasers and nano-antennas. The implants were inserted into the brain tissue grown from induced pluripotent stem cells and enhanced with light-activated molecular toggle switches. A blue laser, red laser, and far-red laser were then shone onto the tissue. Results show the laser-photonic interaction activated and deactivated FGFR1 and its associated cellular functions, essentially hacking the gene.
The team states optogenomic interfaces, light-mediated nano-bio interfaces enabling the control of genes and their interactions in the cell nucleus, and, therefore all the cell functionalities, exhibit high sub-cellular resolution and temporal accuracy. They go on to add compared to conventional chemical and electrical nano bio-interfaces, the use of light as a mediator enables new types of interfaces with unprecedented spatial and temporal resolutions.
The team surmises they have wirelessly hacked a master gene using nano-photonics. For the future, the researchers state the next steps, include testing their optogenomic technology in 3D mini-brains and cancerous tissue.
Source: University at Buffalo
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Michelle is a health industry veteran who taught and worked in the field before training as a science journalist.
Featured by numerous prestigious brands and publishers, she specializes in clinical trial innovation--expertise she gained while working in multiple positions within the private sector, the NHS, and Oxford University.