January 28, 2013

New Neuromodulation Technique: Optogenetics

First a little background from wikipedia if you are new to optogenetics

"Optogenetics is a neuromodulation technique employed in behavioral neuroscience that uses a combination of techniques from optics and genetics to control the activity of individual neurons in living tissue—even within freely-moving animals—and to precisely measure the effects of those manipulations in real-time.  Optogenetics is known for the high spatial and temporal resolutions that it provides, which allow for observation of individual neurons over a timecourse of milliseconds, but is primarily famous for its ability to precisely alter the activity of specific brain areas without directly affecting a subject's behavior.

In 2012 Gero Miesenböck was awarded the InBev-Baillet Latour International Health Prize for "pioneering optogenetic approaches to manipulate neuronal activity and to control animal behaviour."

In 2010 Karl Deisseroth was awarded the inaugural HFSP Nakasone Award for "for his pioneering work on the development of optogenetic methods for studying the function of neuronal networks underlying behavior."
In 2010, optogenetics was chosen as the Method of the Year across all fields of science and engineering by the interdisciplinary research journal Nature Methods Commentary. At the same time, optogenetics was highlighted in the article on “Breakthroughs of the Decade” in the scientific research journal Science Breakthrough of the Decade; these journals also referenced recent public-access general-interest video Method of the year video and textual SciAm summaries of optogenetics."

Here a video of it in action

It is still pretty new but already its shown enough promise that there are many research projects already underway in areas of:

1)Parkinsons disease and epilepsy treaments
2)Learning how activity occurs between neurons and brain mapping by characterizing the role of specific neurons, identifying the circuits responsible for behavior, and enhancing the methods of operant conditioning
3)Reasearch will be used to create better theories on how neural nets work
4)Gene therapy
5)A cure for blindness. Experiments on blind mice have shown that light evokes potentials in the visual cortex indicating that the retina of the animals regained photosensitivity, which is transmitted via the optic nerve to the brain. It is conceivable that such an approach might be possible for blind humans, suffering e.g. the dry or the wet macular degeneration. This would be an alternative to the technology, which implants photosensitive chips in the human eye, which is far away from a satisfying treatment.

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