Will sonothermogenetics become a non-invasive treatment for neurological diseases in humans? Activation of deep areas of mice’s brains evokes behavioral responses in mice.
Although scientists have had some success in treating neurological abnormalities, they require surgical implants. However, recent research shows that by using wearables (a wearable device), it is possible to non-invasively activate or deactivate individual neurons.
A multidisciplinary team of researchers at Washington University in St. Louis led by biomedical engineering and radiation oncology specialist Hong Chen, PhD, has created a non-invasive, cell-type adapted method for activating neurons in mammalian brains. The work is a link between genetics and the phenomenon of warming cells using phonothermogenetics, an ultrasound therapy.
Sonothermogenetics makes it possible to monitor the body’s behavior by stimulating a specific area of the brain.
The technology creates opportunities to treat diseases with neurological basis, including Parkinson’s disease or epilepsy. It should be noted that this method is a non-invasive form of activating responses that have so far only been possible through neurosurgical assistance. Stimulation of neurons can take place even with a smartwatch, so without the use of specialized medical equipment.
A special ultrasound-sensitive vector was applied to genetically selected neurons. In a second step, they delivered a small heat signal via low-intensity ultrasound to specific neurons in the brain through a high-tech wearable or health monitoring accessory. Functioning like a switch, the vector activates an ion channel, turning neurons on or off.
The work of Dr. Hong Chen’s team has demonstrated that sonothermogenetics induces behavioral responses in rodents and reaches deep regions of the animals’ brains. Hong Chen points out that sonothermogenetics may offer a change from today’s stance on exploring neuroscience. In the future, it will enable the discovery of new methods for understanding and treating human brain disorders.
Looking beyond the boundaries of his scientific disciplines and his own department, Professor Hong Chen is also developing a new drug-dosing system that could be used for tumors located in the brain stem, the body’s most valuable system. The new system could lead to novel treatments for diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG), a devastating brain cancer in children.
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