Neurons are the basic working unit of the brain and are also called information messengers. The primary role of neurons is to carry information from the sensory receptor cells throughout the body to the brain. A neural network consists of a large number of simple units and whatever happens in the brain is the result of neuron signals. This network allows us to pick a coffee, react to a joke, jump, and dance. Some neurons don’t send and receive signals properly; this leads to complications like chronic pain, epilepsy, depression, and addiction.
Researchers at the University of Arizona are creating a tool for the method of optogenetic. Optogenetic is the technique that uses the combination of light and genetic engineering to control neurons. The new tool shines a light on the specific neurons in the brain and allows them to suppress or excite the activity. Optogenetic experiments aim to increase the understanding of how the brain works and it also paves the way for scientists to research and find cures for illnesses such as neurodegenerative diseases.
The research was led by biomedical professors Craig.M.berge and Philip Gutruf. To develop an untethered light delivery tool to enable seamless optogenetics, the research team collaborated with the researchers at Northwestern University.
Jokubas Ausra, a biomedical engineering student at the University of Arizona and the first author of the research paper explains this technique, he says this technique we can use optogenetics without the need to penetrate the skull or brain tissue as this technique makes it less invasive. Currently, optogenetics experiments in animal models involve introducing a light-sensitive protein that attaches to specific neurons in the brain.
Scientists use a small device to send pulses of light to neutrons and modulate their activity. This new light into the skull tool looks like a tiny, high-tech flashlight. In this research, the team reported on the first wireless transcranial optogenetic stimulation that sends light throughout the skull without the need of penetrating. This technique is done through a battery-free and wireless device that is as thin as a sheet of paper and about half the diameter of a dime, implanted below the pores and brain.
Gutruf, a member of BI05 institute, says that when optogenetics became available for humans, we have technology that enables seamless light delivery to neurons in the brain or spine. So this technology will someday help to manage conditions like epilepsy or chronic pain without harmful surgery or chronic drugs.
This light into skull technology has huge potential to treat diseases on a neurological basis but this technology takes a long process to become available for humans. The researchers say that this new tool will help scientists to perform many experiments which were previously not possible. It also helps to make faster progress to develop or uncover many test treatments.