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What’s all the talk about Optogenetics?

What’s all the talk about Optogenetics?

In the past couple of months there have been several news articles talking about optogenetics and its use as a treatment for eye conditions including Stargardt’s, Retinitis Pigmentosa and Macula Degeneration. I hadn’t come across the term so I thought I’d do some research into what exactly it is, since I am known to have to know everything about everything!

Optogenetics is a new technology, first discussed in 2004, using the ideas of neuroscience and microbial biology. The basic idea of optogentics is that light can activate and deactivate cells. It was observing algae that led to the lightbulb moment (excuse the pun). Algae would swim towards light, and scientists found a protein that was activated by the light and causing its behaviour.

Scientists then came up with the idea to remove the DNA (protein)  from the algae, use gene therapy (attach it to a virus so it can be put into other animals) and then inserting into the animal cell. Once it was in the cell, it would replicate and fill the cell with these light sensitive proteins. They could then manipulate the cells using different coloured light. They also had the ability to add these viruses only to certain cells.

This technology is being investigated for brain diseases but also for vision conditions. Below is a TED talk that explains the discovery of optogenetics, how it is being researched and describes its use for vision conditions. Basically what it says is that even though the photoreceptor cells are damaged, light can still get into the retina. Optogenetics installs cells to act as a ‘camera’. The video shows an experiment they have done with mice that, I must admit, got me a little emotional thinking about the possibility of seeing things again!

Below are links to optogenetics and vision articles.

Medical Daily, 11 May 2015 

Science News, 15 May 2015 

PLOS Biologue, 7 May 2015 

Daily Mail, 11 May 2015 

Image source: https://www.sciencenews.org/article/how-rewire-eye

One comment

  1. Irv Arons June 2, 2015 at 4:32 pm Reply

    Chrissy, I've also written about the use of optogenetics to restore vision. Here's the introduction to my article:

    Restoring Normal Vision to the Blind

    If you or someone you know suffers from blindness due to retinitis pigmentosa (RP), Ushers Syndrome or geographic atrophy (dry AMD), there is now hope for regaining near normal vision. A scientist and professor at Cornell and a professor of ophthalmology at the Univ. of Florida have teamed up to develop a technique to bypass the damaged photoreceptors causing blindness in the diseases noted above, and restore near normal vision, first in animals and soon in humans.

    Dr. Sheila Nirenberg at Cornell and Dr. William Hauswirth of the Univ. of Florida will soon be setting up a human clinical trial to try their new technique that sends enhanced visual signals to the brain using a combination of a mathematical code and a technology called optogenetics.

    To learn more about this discovery, please follow this link: http://tinyurl.com/NirenbergTechnique


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