Optogenetics is a method to control neurons using light that is revolutionizing neuroscience. The method involves genetically changing the particular cell types to make them produce light-sensitive proteins. Later scientists can activate the cells using light pulses delivered to the brain via fibre-optic cable.
This has already given researchers the ability to probe the circuitry underlying animal brain functions. Some have moved beyond the brain, working toward human medical applications. Optogenetics provide 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. In case the cells fail, researchers can use viruses to deliver opsin-producing genes to targeted cells to restore light sensitivity to photoreceptors or to make other cell types in the retina sensitive to light.
The group’s experiments showed increased insulin levels and reduced glucose sensitivity in mice that were implanted with the engineered cells and then treated with light. In 2017 the bioengineer and his colleagues described implanting wirelessly powered LEDs along with the engineered cells to create a smartphone-controlled semi-automatic system. They have continued refining the technique.