Optogenetics is a fairly new scientific field that combines optical stimulation with genetic engineering. According to a recent article in Wired magazine, neuroscientist, psychologist, and MBF Bioscience customer Dr. Karl Deisseroth and his team of researchers at Stanford University are making major optogenetic advancements – the kind that might lead to a cure for Parkinson’s Disease.
It all began in 1979, when one of the discoverers of DNA’s double helix, Francis Crick, acknowledged the need to “control neurons of only one cell type in one specific location.” The solution? Light. The only genes known to respond to light were the ones found in plants. In the 1990s, German biologist Peter Hegemann was researching the affect of light on algae. When exposed to light, the algae cells moved.
Ten years ago, UC San Diego biologist Roger Tsien acquired some of Hegemann’s light-sensitive genes, and inserted them into a frog egg. Stimulated by a beam of light, the egg responded.
Enter Dr. Deisseroth. Aided by a team of graduate students, Dr. Deisseroth set out to discover whether or not “misbehaving cells” in the brains of patients suffering from depression or Parkinson’s could be “tagged genetically and controlled with light.” They were able to successfully control the movements of worms, make a mouse run in circles, and are currently carrying out research on primates.
Read the full article at wired.com to find out more about the history of optogenetics and its relevance to the treatment of Parkinson’s.