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Health: the revolution of optogenetics

Optogenetics, described as the "breakthrough of the decade" in 2010 by the magazine Science, is about to revolutionize the field of optics. By stimulating neurons via light through a protein, it would allow patients to recover their sight or memory. We explain everything about optogenetics!

What is optogenetics?

Optogenetics is a combination of optics and genetic engineering. It was born with the discovery of channelrhodopsin – a protein derived from a unicellular algae. This protein is sensitive to light . The idea is to introduce it into the neurons, so that it creates an electric current through the cell membrane. Thus, it would be possible to control its activity by exciting or inhibiting the cells via a light beam .

Film from the series "Ideas Full Tech" , directed by François Demerliac and coproduced by Virtuel Productions , Universcience and Inserm .

This technique was described as "a breakthrough of the decade" by Science magazine in 2010 and opened a field of vertiginous possibilities in neuroscience .

What does optogenetics allow?

Thanks to optogenetics , it is possible to stimulate neurons in a targeted way (according to their functioning and their type), unlike the classical electrical stimulation method with electrodes. This technique also helps to better understand the functioning of the brain and neural circuits.

optogenetics

It is therefore easy to understand how it can revolutionize the optics sector , particularly the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases such as AMD or retinitis pigmentosa . Indeed, these pathologies are responsible for the progressive destruction of the cells of the retina that are sensitive to light – which causes blindness. Thanks to optogenetics , we could use these light-sensitive proteins to implant them in defective cells, before they can be stimulated by light … And perhaps, allowing the blind to see or recover the view !

Where is the research?

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Scientists at the Institute of Vision are currently in the pre-clinical stage of development but have already achieved very encouraging results on animals. It remains to test the method on humans, before being able to determine all the parameters necessary for its effectiveness. In addition to optics, optogenetics could ultimately also allow us to recover our memory , regardless of how we lost it: post-traumatic stress, head trauma, or even the treatment of dementia. Alzheimer.

Optogenetics is therefore likely to revolutionize the optics sector in the coming years, but also those of biology and psychology!