“Going wireless is the future for just about everything!” That is a quote from scientist Sreekanth Chalasani, and we can’t help but agree.
Wireless medical inventions like bone-health monitors and pacemakers are catching on, as well as the possibility of universal car chargers. We also can’t forget the biggest wireless dream of all: Nikola Tesla’s wireless power transmission. It just makes sense! Wireless means less waste and more efficiency.
Realizing this, a team of scientists have made a revolutionary breakthrough toward wirelessly manipulating mammalian cells using sound, in a technique called “sonogenetics.” This concept may seem strange but let us explain.
What is sonogenetics?
Basically, the term sonogenetics means using ultrasound to change the behavior of cells in a non-invasive manner. “We already know that ultrasound is safe, and that it can go through bone, muscle and other tissues, making it the ultimate tool for manipulating cells deep in the body,” added Chalasani.
Low-frequency ultrasound waves can target a particular protein that is sensitive to the signal. This research, published in Nature Communications, focused on TRPA1. When this protein is stimulated through the ultrasound waves, it also stimulates the cells which carry it. Depending on what type of cell is being stimulated depends on the outcome. For example, a muscle cell may contract with stimulation, or a neuron in the brain will fire.
In this experiment, scientists genetically modified cells to be marked with an increased concentration of TRPA1, making them the key targets of the ultrasound waves.
What is the application of sonogenetics?
Currently, treating conditions such as Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy requires scientists to implant electrodes in the brain which stimulate certain dysfunctional cells. Researchers hope that sonogenetics can one day replace these invasive therapies.
In the future, the team wants to tweak the placement and amount of TRPA1 around the body using gene therapy. Gene delivery techniques have already been shown to be successful in humans, such as in treating the leading cause of blindness and sickle cell anemia. Therefore, it’s just the case of tweaking this theory to a different sound-based scenario.
“Gene delivery techniques already exist for getting a new gene – such as TRPA1 – into the human heart,” Chalasani says. “If we can then use an external ultrasound device to activate those cells, that could really revolutionize pacemakers.”
There is still a while to go before this therapy can become a reality. The future for sonogenetics, though, looks bright.
Source study: Nature Communications – Sonogenetic control of mammalian cells using exogenous Transient Receptor Potential A1 channels