20-08-2014 | Light therapy for epilepsy

20 August 2014
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Researchers in the US are using an experimental therapy called optogenetics to develop new ways of controlling seizures. Optogenetics uses weakened viruses with light sensitive proteins or opsins to create an electrical current which is triggered by light. Opsins can be activated or shut down depending on the frequencies of light used so that different colours of light have different effects.

In a recent study reported on Science Daily a team at Massachusetts Institute of Technology managed to shut down cell activity in the brains of laboratory animals. Previous studies have used different coloured light to activate brain cells and now the research is looking at ways to turn off the activity in brain cells that are causing seizures.

Researchers previously found that red light penetrates deeper in to brain structures than other colours of light. Proteins which are sensitive to light respond to the red light. These proteins or opsins respond to light being used from outside the skull but initially the response was too weak to affect the cells enough to control their activity. Then Amy Choung, a member of the team, which is led by Dr. Ed Boyden, developed another relative of the protein which would react more strongly. This protein called "Jaws" allowed the red light to shut down the cells completely from outside the skull.

The hope is that out of this research could be developed a way of detecting seizures early and blocking them using light in as non-invasive a way as possible. Human skulls are thicker than those of rodents and so having an external device might not be sufficiently effective in humans especially if outdoor light could affect it. 

Further research is needed to established to see if this technique has the potential to be developed into a safe therapy for humans.

Source: Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "Non-Invasive brain control: New light-sensitive protein enables simpler, more powerful optogenetics" Science Daily . ScienceDaily,29 June 2014.


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