Expressing bioactive genes with the power of the mind? While this may sound like something out of a science fiction movie, it is not: A group of researchers from ETH Zurich proved such a thing was possible in real life.
The group published their results in Nature Communications last week. Titled “Mind-controlled transgene expression by a wireless-powered optogenetic designer cell implant”, the paper describes the authors’ platform, which uses infrared light to activate a gene to express a protein in specially engineered cells.
The study was carried out in mice and humans. The authors built an optogenic device–a brain-computer interface which uses brain-waves that trigger the expression of the human glycoprotein SEAP (secreted alkaline phosphatase) from engineered HEK-293F cells that are activated by near-infrared light.
By focusing on a game called Mindflex, in which the movement of a ball is controlled by thought, the subjects sent brainwaves that, in turn, wirelessly triggered an infrared light, which activated HEK-293F cells that have been genetically modified to respond to the light to express the protein SEAP.
Mind-triggered neat-infrared light activation was observed through the mouse skin in real time, while high-level SEAP production of the HEK cells inside the implant was confirmed after the implants had been removed.
The work is a proof-of-concept at this stage, and will require more robust follow-up studies to evaluate its clinical efficiency. Nevertheless, the authors have built a robust, simple system that responds to three different mental states: biofeedback, concentration and meditation.
Mind-controlled prosthetics are already in the clinic, and this work adds another dimension to the field of electronic-mechanical implants: while this work is very preliminary, it may soon lead to efficient, symptom-triggered therapeutics.