By Claire Wiggins
Although it sounds like something from science fiction, researchers at the department of Biosystems (D-BSSE) in Basel have designed a new method of gene regulation that allows brain waves generated by certain thoughts to express genes.
"For the first time, we have been able to tap into human brainwaves, transfer them wirelessly to a gene network and regulate the expression of a gene depending on the type of thought. Being able to control gene expression via the power of thought is a dream that we've been chasing for over a decade," says Martin Fussenegger, Professor of Biotechnology and Bioengineering at Basel.
Brainwaves are recorded with an EEG headset, and they are then analyzed and transfered wirelessly to a controller. The controler then alters a magnetic field, which induces a current in an implant. An LED light then turns on in the implant, illuminating a culture of genetically modified cells. When the cells sense the light, they begin to produce the desired protein, or express the gene of interest. This study has also been tested successfully in mice.
This new method of controlling gene expression is not only unique in its method, but in its simplicity. The near-infrared light is not harmful to cells, and a SEAP protein was used, which is easy to detect and diffuses from the culture chamber into the mice bloodstream.
Since the system works well in human-cell culture and in human-mouse models, there is promise that this technology may serve as a treatment for medical conditions in the future. One day, a thought-controlled implant could help with headaches, other pain, and even epilepsy by detecting specific brain waves and producing or suppressing the creation of certain agents in response.
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