The human brain is a complex organ that has challenged scientists for centuries. They often struggle to find suitable treatments for an array of maladies. But over the years, there has been progress: unique items such as fiber-optic probes have become options for those with diseases such as Alzheimer’s, or serious injuries. However, to date, most therapy is highly invasive and often comes with side-effects to the patient that can be on par with the actual disease itself. What can something like photometric standards and optogenetics do to help in this arena?
According to researchers in a recent groundbreaking study out of Japan, light technology can indeed help quite a bit. Using blue light with carefully manipulated wavelengths, the team showed they can modify nerve cells in a completely non-invasive fashion. In doing so, researchers could activate or disable the cells on command with the power of blue light.
The applications of such a technology in medicine could potentially be widespread, but the application of it is very complex and guided by strict photometric standards. So far, researchers from the RIKEN Brain Science Institute in Japan have only tested this use of optogenetics with mice. Challenges include blue light penetration levels, which are addressed with nanoparticles that can convert low-energy infrared light. There is also an issue with heat creation based on energy production within the brain, though that issue is minor.
But through all the possible issues is the potential benefit: non-invasive brain therapy that could precisely modify cells at precisely the right moments. All with the help of optogenetically modified blue-light. Research with mice showed that inhibited cells could stop seizures; perhaps one day light-stimulated nerve cells could help to activate parts of the brain dormant in injured patients.
Remote and non-invasive light therapies may very well be the future of certain medicines. Research teams like those from RIKEN are just beginning to crack the code as to exactly what wavelengths of carefully modified light can do when expertly directed. Photometric standards have a clear role to play in making certain the metaphorical blades that researchers use will always be sharpened to the appropriate degree.