Field experts from Stanford’s Bio-X team have developed a small, glowing device that can activate neurons in the brains, spinal cords and limbs of lab mice.
The device uses the rodents’ own body to power itself wirelessly, uses light to control the activity in their brains, and is the first invention to fully send optogenetic nerve stimulation in an implantable format.
The device has opened up doors to studies the scientific community never ever considered before. Researchers are now considering conducting experiments with mice in enclosed spaces, as well as experiments where the animals are allowed to interact freely with one another.
Ada Poon, assistant professor of electrical engineering from Stanford’s Bio-X team, gave a statement saying that “This is a new way of delivering wireless power for optogenetics. It’s much smaller and the mouse can move around during an experiment”.
She went on to add that the device can easily be assembled and reconfigured to use for a number of different lab tests. What’s more, the power source’s design is also publicly available, which makes professor Poon believe that other labs will find it easy to adapt the device for use in their own work.
Traditionally speaking, optogenetic experiments have involved attaching a fiber optic cable to the mouse’s head to deliver the light signals and control the nerves. This approach has allowed test subjects to move inside an open cage, but researchers have found it hard to make it possible for the subjects to navigate enclosed spaces and burrow into sleeping cage-mates.
On top of these difficulties, researchers also had to grab the mice before an experiment in order to attach the cable. But this stresses the animals and causes that test results, outcomes and conclusions to be inaccurate and unreliable. It limits the information that researchers should normally be able to learn through optogenetics.
Professor Poon also revealed that developing the innovative device was the easy part. She worked alongside some of her colleagues and got the device up and running in just a few short months. The hard part was trying to figure out how to power it and get it to work over such a large area, all while trying not to compromise power efficiency.
Field tests have shown that mice had the habit of moving all over the place, so the researchers realized that they needed a way to track their movements and get them to provide localized power.
But the need for such an approach got Professor Poon to eventually realize that she can use the bodies of the animals for this very purpose – to send radio frequency energy in exactly the right wavelength that would resonate in a mouse.
Professor Poon and her team hope that their device will be used to treat and understand movement disorders, mental health disorders, as well as the diseases affecting internal organs.
And if you’re worried that scientists will start controlling your brain, don’t be. Experts explained that optogenetics only work if the nerves receiving the signal have been have been prepared and infused with the proteins needed for them to respond to the light signals. At least for the time being.
The study was published earlier this month in the journal Physical Review Applied.
Image Source: news.stanford.edu