Controlling cells with light - new therapeutic approaches for serious illnesses
How nerve cells can be switched on and off with light
Understanding illnesses down to the smallest detail, recognizing them earlier and optimizing therapies - this ambitious goal has been taken up by the medical science of photonics. Light is the central element here. Optical systems in the diagnosis and treatment of diseases have already taken an important place. A German research team is now even deeper into the matter. Implantable probes should optically activate or deactivate cell functions. The researchers want to influence many diseases.
This "light control" for cells opens up new possibilities in the diagnosis and treatment of many diseases. The Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) has also contributed 1.4 million euros to the project. Scientists at Chemnitz University of Technology and University Medical Center Göttingen are significantly involved in the development of the so-called optogenetic cochlear implant, which according to the researchers opens up unprecedented potential in medical technology and neuroscience.The science of optogenetics has set itself the goal of understanding and recognizing diseases at the microbiological level. The cochlear implants are intended to influence the control of nerve cells. (Image: sdecoret / fotolia.com)
The journey into the self
Tracking and influencing life processes in cells and tissues down to the molecular level - a dream of science. The implantable probes are one step closer to fulfilling this dream. The probes allow a light-controlled control of the activity of cells. Like a switch that is activated by light, nerve cells can simply be switched on or off or other cell functions optically activated.
The alternative to heart and brain pacemakers
The procedure is similar in principle to the electrical stimulation that is used in the heart or brain pacemaker. The light control of the cochlear implant is much more precise. The implant allows much more precise control of cell activity.
Active and passive probes
The scientists want to develop both active and passive probes that enable the implementation of optogenetics in the human body. The "active probes" should be equipped with microscopic micro-LEDs mounted on flexible supports. In the case of the "passive probes", the light is led into the tissue by laser diodes via optical polymer waveguides. These waveguide probes have the advantage that the probe can be further from the site of stimulation. This creates more freedom in the choice of components that must remain operational as an implant for many years in the body.
As one of the first projects, a prototype for "light listening" has already been developed. It is an optical cochlear implant for people with severe hearing loss. This implant is inserted into the cochlea of the inner ear, where it stimulates the nerve cells with the help of the LEDs. The team around Prof. Dr. med. Ulrich Theodor Schwarz and Prof. Dr. med. Karla Hiller is significantly responsible for the development of the probes and miniaturized light source arrays and expects to be ready for market soon. (Vb)