Using Light to Control Cells

Optogenetics, genetically altering particular cell types to make them produce light-sensitive proteins, could help revolutionize vision, glucose levels, gut microbes, and more.

via Scientific American

Optogenetics offers a flexible approach to treating, and possibly curing, blindness. The retina’s photoreceptor cells use light-sensitive proteins, called opsins, to convert light entering the eye into electrical signals. If these cells fail (a common cause of vision loss), researchers can use viruses to deliver opsin-producing genes to targeted cells—either to restore light sensitivity to photoreceptors or to make other cell types in the retina sensitive to light. This process can potentially treat blindness with many different causes and levels of retinal degeneration. It works in the laboratory, and multiple clinical trials of such systems in people are already underway. Setups sometimes use cameras and special goggles to project light wavelengths and intensity optimized for the opsin being used, but scientists are also testing opsins that respond to direct light.

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