A research team from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have engineered advances to implantable optogenetic technology that may substantially enhance its utility in pain management. Optogenetics can modulate pain responses via rapid, temporally specific control of neuronal activity by targeted expression and activation of light-sensitive proteins. The new flexible, implantable devices for effecting this activation are wireless, require no batteries, and can be sutured to soft body tissue rather than being anchored to bone as previously required. Co-senior investigator Robert W. Gereau IV, PhD, commented, “Our eventual goal is to use this technology to treat pain in very specific locations by providing a kind of ‘switch’ to turn off the pain signals long before they reach the brain.” A report on the team’s work appears in the Nov 9 online edition of Nature Biotechnology.
To test the new devices, the team experimented with mice genetically engineered to have light-sensitive proteins on some of their nerve cells. When the mice walked through a specific area in a maze, the implants were illuminated, triggering a pain response. Upon leaving that part of the maze, the devices turned off, and the discomfort dissipated. As a result, the animals quickly learned to avoid that part of the maze. Because of the technical advances over older devices, the new implants “…provide unique, biocompatible platforms for wireless delivery of light to virtually any targeted organ in the body,” according to co-principal investigator John A. Rogers, PhD.
A news story, with link to an audio interview segment with senior investigator Gereau, may be found here.
The journal abstract may be read here.
Read more about implantable devices, here.
Read a Pain Reporter interview with the investigators of implantable brain medication delivery systems, here.