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Optogenetics Device Makes Brain Cells Sensitive to Light Using a Virus

American startup Kendall Research has announced that it has designed a wireless optogenetics device which they call as a Wireless Router for Brain. The new technology deals in controlling cells in the brain to manipulate behaviour, model disease processes using light.

The optogenetics device makes the brain cells sensitive to light using a virus (a standard technique for gene therapy). Then lasers are used to control these cells or test any part of the brain. The idea behind this device was put forward after it was realised that the brain cells (especially neurons) communicate by discharging an electrical impulse.

What is Optogenetics? Optogenetics is the combination of genetic and optical methods to control specific events in targeted cells of living tissue, even within freely moving mammals and other animals, with the temporal precision (millisecond-timescale) needed to keep pace with functioning intact biological systems. In 2010, optogenetics was chosen as the Method of the Year (MOTY) across all fields of science and engineering by the interdisciplinary research journal Nature Methods. Source: Wikipedia

Christian Wentz, the company’s founder said that the device weighs only 3 grams and is powered wirelessly by super-capacitors that are stationed below the animal’s cage or testing area. The setup also includes a wirelessly connected controller that plugs into a computer through a USB. The wireless capabilities allow researchers to control the optogenetics equipment remotely, or even schedule experiments in advance. Employing this technology, a scientist can change the functionality of animal brain through series of clicks and even schedule automatic tests.

As far as human beings are concerned, the optogenetics device can be securely plugged into the cortical shunt behind the ear pointing towards the brain. Wentz also said that the cost of the initial setup is comparable to a single laser system, though it can be scaled up far more cheaply.

Kendall Research plans to make it possible to collect data from the brain through the device. The data could then be wirelessly transmitted to a computer. Sanjay Magavi, a research scientist at Vertex Pharmaceuticals, said that it is yet not clear as to how the device will be used in industry. The interest in using optogenetics in animals to develop more sophisticated models of disease for preclinical drug testing is rapidly increasing.

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