“Scientists only began investigating light-activated therapy a few years ago, but it is generating huge interest”
As researchers develop novel therapies based on inducing specific cells to do specific things, getting the right message to the right group of cells at the right time remains a major challenge. Now researchers at the Wellman Center for Photomedicine at MGH have developed a way to deliver a light signal to specific tissues deep within the body.
“Scientists only began investigating light-activated therapy a few years ago, but it is generating huge interest,” says Wellman investigator Seok Hyun (Andy) Yun, PhD, senior author of the study. “One of the best known example is use of optogenetics – activation or deactivation of brain cells by illumination with different colors of light – to treat brain disorders. But how to deliver light deep within the brain or other tissues has been a common problem. The implant we have developed may help solve this problem.”
Called a light-guiding hydrogel, the implant is constructed from a polymer-based scaffolding capable of supporting living cells and contains cells genetically engineered either to carry out a specific activity in response to light or to emit light in response to a particular metabolic signal. An optical fiber connects the implant to either an external light source or a light detector.
The investigators first determined the properties of the hydrogel scaffolding – including transparency, flexibility and stability – that would be most appropriate for delivering or detecting a light signal. After determining how many cells could be implanted into the hydrogel without significantly reducing its ability to transmit a light signal, they developed and tested in mice two different systems, both involving implantation of a 4-centimeter hydrogel beneath the animal’s skin.
The first system’s implants contained cells genetically engineered to express light-emitting green fluorescent protein (GFP) upon contact with a toxin. After confirming in vitro the hydrogels’ response to nanoparticles containing the toxic metal cadmium, the researchers implanted the hydrogels beneath the skin of three groups of mice. One group was then injected with the cadmium nanoparticles, the second received nanoparticles encased in a polymer shell that shielded cells from the toxin, and the third received a control saline injection. The implants only produced a GFP-signal in response to the unshielded nanoparticles, indicating their ability to sense a change – in this instance the presence of a toxin – in the cellular environment.
To investigate a possible therapeutic application for the system, the investigators used a hydrogel implant containing cells that respond to blue light by producing glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1), a protein playing an essential role in glucose metabolism. After the implants were placed under the skin of mice with diabetes, the blue light signal was delivered for 12 hours. A day and a half later – 48 hours after the implant – the animals that received the light signal had double the level of GLP-1 in their blood, along with significantly better results in a glucose tolerance test, than did implanted mice not treated with light.
“This work combines several existing technologies well known in their respective fields – such as drug delivery, genetic engineering, biomaterial science, and photonics – to build a new implant system that enables the delivery of photomedicine deep in the body,” says Yun, an associate professor of Dermatology at Harvard Medical School and director of the Harvard Bio-Optics Lab. “This is the first time anyone has shown the ability to talk optically – by means of light – with cells deep within the body, both to sense the presence of a toxin and to deliver a cell-based therapy.”
The researchers add that future studies should investigate how changing the shape and structure of the hydrogel can improve the implant’s light-guiding properties, ways to improve the production and delivery of a therapeutic protein, how the immune system would react to long-term implantation and ways to deliver or detect the light signal that would not require passing a fiber through the skin.
Go deeper with Bing News on:
Light-based communication with cells
- How to Get Rid of Headaches as Quickly as Possible
Ever been cruising through the week—grinding out work presentations like it’s your job (wait, it literally is), sweating your stress out at the gym, maintaining your friendships like a pro—when the ...
- How the Bacteria in Your Gut Microbiome Can Impact Mental Health and Cognitive Functioning
We can thank the gut-brain axis (or gut-brain connection)—a bidirectional communication network that connects the gut and the brain—for that. “The gut and brain originate from the same cells in the ..
- Psychobiotics for Anxiety: What the Research Tells Us
Research has identified specific strains of gut bacteria that possess the ability to interface with the vagus nerve directly, via the secretion of mood-altering neurochemicals fro ...
- Higher Lupus-Associated Flare Risk Seen in Patients With Normal-Looking Skin
Their analysis showed that both lesional and prelesional skin have a type-I interferon-rich environment that affects gene transcription across skin types and distorts cell-to-cell communication ...
- Wireless Implant for Anti-Cancer Photodynamic Therapy
Part of the problem lies in how little researchers know about the correct dose of light to use to appropriately affect cancer cells, and an inability to adjust the dose based on the tumor response.
Go deeper with Google Headlines on:
Light-based communication with cells
Go deeper with Bing News on:
- A novel optogenetic tool for precise control of Gq signaling
A research paper just published in Science China Life Sciences reports Chicken opsin 5 (cOpn5) as a powerful yet easy-to-use, single-component optogenetic tool that mediates precise control of the ...
- Optogenetics Market Size With Growth Opportunities, Top Countries Data, Future Trends And Share With Revenue Forecast 2022-2031
Kenneth Research has evaluated the current market opportunities in Optogenetics Market in the healthcare industry for the forec ...
- Optogenetics For 100 Euros
Larval zebrafish, Drosophila (fruit fly), and Caenorhabditis elegans (roundworm) have become key model organisms in modern neuroscience due to their low maintenance costs and easy sharing of ...
- Nanoscope's Clinical and Scientific Advancesin Optogenetics to be Featured at ASGCT Annual Meeting, May 16-19, 2022 in Washington, DC
Nanoscope Therapeutics Inc., a clinical-stage biotechnology company developing optogenetic therapies for treatment of retinal degenerative diseases, today announced four presentations on the Company's ...
- Optogenetics may be overpromised as potential neurological treatment
Optogenetics makes it possible to use light to turn neurons on and off. In the laboratory, researchers have used the technique to study smell, hearing, and addictive behavior in mice.