Researchers in the US are developing a medical implant that can communicate with cells and organs deep inside the human body using light. The research represents a significant achievement in the emerging field of light-activated therapy, the ability to monitor and control the body using light signals. Ben Gruber has more.
REUTERS AND MASSACHUSETTS GENERAL HOSPITAL - This diabetic mouse has been implanted with a device designed to spur the production of proteins essential to balancing the animal's glucose levels.
The implant contains cells genetically engineered to respond to light.
By switching on the light, Massachusetts General Hospital researcher Myunghwan Choi can switch on the cells that produce the proteins, although finding a way to transmit the light signal into the mouse's body wasn't easy.
"Solving that problem was our goal in this research. So we developed a technique called light-guided hydrogel that functions as an optical communications channel to talk to cells in our body."
…and the hydrogel keeps the light focused on the targeted cells.
"We make hydrogel as transparent and clear material and it also has higher refractive index so it can guide light like a conventional optical fibre."
Two days after implantation the researchers found that the mouse's glucose levels had normalised. The hydrogel had worked.
"Here we only showed one cell doing one function but if we mix a lot of functions we may be able to generate some artificial tissues or even organs that are controlled by light or that communicate by light."
Light-activated therapy research is in its infancy but Choi says he's excited about illuminating its potential.