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posted by CoolHand on Monday February 29 2016, @10:52PM   Printer-friendly
from the dreams-of-modern-medicine dept.

An upcoming human trial will attempt to use optogenetics to treat conditions such as retinitis pigmentosa:

In the next month, scientists from RetroSense Therapeutics will inject a virus deep into the retina of legally blind human volunteers. The virus will carry what is perhaps the most monumental payload in modern neuroscience history: DNA that codes for channelrhodopsin-2, a light-responsive protein isolated from algae that — under blue light — activates cells in the retina, thereby transmitting visual information to the brain.

Forget electronic implants. If all goes well, these volunteers will be able to see again using their own eyes — but in no way a human being has ever experienced sight before. Whoa.

But the stakes are even higher: if this works, it means that optogenetics — a revolutionary neuroscience technique using channelrhodopsin-2 and other light-activated proteins — is feasible in humans as therapy. Considering optogenetics has been used in mice to implant false memories, treat cocaine addiction, attenuate OCD symptoms, trigger sexual advances and aggression and reverse motor deficits in Parkinson's disease — just to name a few feats— the technique could completely transform the face of neurology. "This is going to be a gold mine of information about doing optogenetics studies in humans," said Dr. Antonello Bonci, the scientific director of the intramural research program at the National Institute on Drug Abuse, to MIT Technology Review.

[...] If it works, what will the patients see? No one can say for sure. After all, this will be the first time humans experience the visual world through the light sensor of algae. But studies with blind lab mice may give us a hint. In one previous study, after optogenetics treatment, previously blind mice could swim out of a chamber in which the escape route was brightly lit. On average, they escaped as fast as mice with normal vision.


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New Tool for Optogenetics: Photocleavable Proteins 3 comments [+]

Researchers have created a protein that breaks into two pieces when exposed to light:

Researchers at the University of Alberta have developed a new method of controlling biology at the cellular level using light. The tool -- called a photocleavable protein -- breaks into two pieces when exposed to light, allowing scientists to study and manipulate activity inside cells in new and different ways.

First, scientists use the photocleavable protein to link cellular proteins to inhibitors, preventing the cellular proteins from performing their usual function. This process is known as caging. "By shining light into the cell, we can cause the photocleavable protein to break, removing the inhibitor and uncaging the protein within the cell," said lead author Robert Campbell, professor in the Department of Chemistry. Once the protein is uncaged, it can start to perform its normal function inside the cell. The tool is relatively easy to use and widely applicable for other research that involves controlling processes inside a cell.

Optogenetic control with a photocleavable protein, PhoCl (DOI: 10.1038/nmeth.4222) (DX)

Related: With a Better Optogenetic Light Switch, Scientists Can Flip Neurons On and Off
Gene Therapy Human Trial Will Inject Virus Into the Retinas of the Legally Blind
Nerve Stimulation May Recover Memories in Alzheimer's Patients (Mice)
Scientists Test a Way to Erase Scary Memories
Mice Turned Violent by Photoactivation of Amygdala Neurons


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  • (Score: 4, Funny) by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 29 2016, @10:55PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 29 2016, @10:55PM (#311818)

    These people won't be organic anymore. We should label them.

    • (Score: 2) by Bogsnoticus on Tuesday March 01 2016, @12:17AM

      by Bogsnoticus (3982) on Tuesday March 01 2016, @12:17AM (#311838)

      Everyone also needs an allergen warning printed on them.

      After all, we all contain traces of nuts.

      *badoom tish*

      ....I'll get my coat..

      --
      Genius by birth. Evil by choice.
  • (Score: 3, Informative) by frojack on Monday February 29 2016, @11:05PM

    by frojack (1554) Subscriber Badge on Monday February 29 2016, @11:05PM (#311819) Journal

    You can be legally blind and still see well enough to get around in unfamiliar area.
    Basically it means you can't drive, or read.

    --
    No, you are mistaken. I've always had this sig.
    • (Score: 2) by opinionated_science on Monday February 29 2016, @11:46PM

      by opinionated_science (4031) on Monday February 29 2016, @11:46PM (#311828)

      and fascinating enough, you can be completely blind and still detect light and dark!!

      Google "melanopsin" , it was only discovered in the last 15 years, and is a 3rd type of receptor, apparently, just for determining night.

      • (Score: 1, Funny) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 01 2016, @12:18PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 01 2016, @12:18PM (#312079)

        That's nothing, I saw this great documentary about this one blind guy who can "see" with his other senses so well that he's able to put on a black outfit and mask and go out beating up bad guys using ninjitsu & parkour: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daredevil_(TV_series) [wikipedia.org]

    • (Score: 3, Interesting) by Snotnose on Tuesday March 01 2016, @12:23AM

      by Snotnose (1623) on Tuesday March 01 2016, @12:23AM (#311839)

      I once worked with a guy who was legally blind. We shared a pretty large office, and he'd crank up his font size such that I could read it from across the room. He also had a big-ass magnifying glass for reading printed material.

      Cool thing was, he only had to read something once and he remembered it. It was odd, someone would find a bug, he'd close his eyes, then say "file foo.c, routine bar, about halfway down we need >=, not >". He was a damned good programmer.

    • (Score: 2) by wisnoskij on Tuesday March 01 2016, @01:05AM

      by wisnoskij (5149) <reversethis-{moc ... ksonsiwnohtanoj}> on Tuesday March 01 2016, @01:05AM (#311850)

      "can't drive, or read"
      Which is a huge amount of vision. Without my glasses, I cannot legally drive, and reading would be even harder then trying to drive. But honestly, I probably could drive fairly competently in most situations. The details are really important, but really 90% is still available to you past the point of driving and reading.

      --
      Respect my Authoritah!!!
  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 29 2016, @11:09PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 29 2016, @11:09PM (#311821)

    In one previous study, after optogenetics treatment, previously blind mice could swim out of a chamber in which the escape route was brightly lit. On average, they escaped as fast as mice with normal vision.

    This doesn't tell us anything, rodents don't rely much on sight. Besides anything else, we need to know how fast the blind mice were on this assay. I tried to get the paper but it wouldn't load. Anyone else have this issue?

    • (Score: 1, Informative) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 01 2016, @12:00AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 01 2016, @12:00AM (#311833)

      Same AC. The link in the summary is to an editorial about this paper:
      http://www.nature.com/doifinder/10.1038/mt.2011.103 [nature.com]

      They found the "blind" mice and "blind mice with injected photoreceptors" were both slightly slower to reach a brightly lit target chamber than "normal" mice. Then they found that after injecting something supposed to activate the new photoreceptors, the "previously blind" mice got slower at finding the platform. They interpret this as the mice becoming sensitive to light and scared of the bright light.

      This is a strange experiment because the mice with normal vision learned to find the platform faster (ie were not scared off by the light). However, the treatment supposed to restore vision had the opposite effect of making them scared of the light. I doubt they designed the experiment with this result in mind.

    • (Score: 2) by c0lo on Tuesday March 01 2016, @01:07AM

      by c0lo (156) on Tuesday March 01 2016, @01:07AM (#311853)

      This doesn't tell us anything, rodents don't rely much on sight. Besides anything else, we need to know how fast the blind mice were on this assay... Anyone else have this issue?

      Nope, not me. I can rely on my sight... um... blindingly fast for the moment, thank you.

    • (Score: 2) by Some call me Tim on Tuesday March 01 2016, @01:52AM

      by Some call me Tim (5819) on Tuesday March 01 2016, @01:52AM (#311874)

      If you really want to know how fast the blind mice were, you should probably ask the farmers wife. ;-)
      /mostly sorry.

  • (Score: 4, Interesting) by patella.whack on Tuesday March 01 2016, @12:27AM

    by patella.whack (3848) on Tuesday March 01 2016, @12:27AM (#311841)

    I'd like to be there to see them post-op. It's a pity Dr. Sacks isn't still around because I'd love to read his remarks on the results of these procedures. I seem to remember reading that restored sight to the blind can be a harrowing affair (from the newly-sighted's perspective.) The resulting sensory overload and unfamiliar input from physically restored eyes gets interpreted in entirely unfamiliar ways to the brain, which are much different than what a naturally sighted person's eye & brain processing combo presents to it's human. I think some patient's have even opted to have previous sight-restoring techniques reversed because their new sight was simply too disorienting and traumatic.

    • (Score: 3, Funny) by bob_super on Tuesday March 01 2016, @01:14AM

      by bob_super (1357) on Tuesday March 01 2016, @01:14AM (#311859)

      I'm pro-sight: no reversing for you, regardless of trauma.

      • (Score: 2) by patella.whack on Tuesday March 01 2016, @01:24AM

        by patella.whack (3848) on Tuesday March 01 2016, @01:24AM (#311862)

        Really, bob?
        I appreciate your funny/trollish comment that invokes gov't and SJWs etc, but I was hoping this time that my comment might get some brain guys in here. Well, I guess I'll just go up and mod you funny :-)
        -Cheers

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 01 2016, @01:35AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 01 2016, @01:35AM (#311866)

      I think some patient's have even opted to have previous sight-restoring techniques reversed because their new sight was simply too disorienting and traumatic.

      Interesting if true, because then the mouse experiment was pretty much known to be worthless beforehand. If they got faster "the treatment worked", if they got slower "the treatment worked". This is no better than astrology.

      • (Score: 2) by patella.whack on Tuesday March 01 2016, @01:38AM

        by patella.whack (3848) on Tuesday March 01 2016, @01:38AM (#311868)

        Maybe. But remember that we're so used to accepting the mouse-model and applying it to humans (because it IS one of our best models), that we forget sometimes that there may actually be no use in applying the mouse model to us!

        • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 01 2016, @01:44AM

          by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 01 2016, @01:44AM (#311871)

          I don't understand your point. Are you saying mouse models are unreliable anyway, so why bother doing legitimate experiments with them? Then just don't do the mouse experiments at all, it amounts to torturing animals for no reason.

          • (Score: 2) by patella.whack on Tuesday March 01 2016, @01:55AM

            by patella.whack (3848) on Tuesday March 01 2016, @01:55AM (#311876)

            Well, mouse experiments are indeed relevant and have been proven to provide results that are predictive in us humans, but what I mean to say is that they're not an exclusive domain of things that may be indicative of effective treatments for us. Re: your comment about hurting animals for no reason-- you must come to your own conclusion about whether a particular animal exhibits sentience enough which should not be subject to 'torture.' Then factor in 'for no reason,' (or the value judgement that betterment of humans is a good-enough reason...) It's a mostly philosophical question at this point, IMHO, since science doesn't know yet what makes a 'being' a 'being' and we don't really know how to place a value on it. I'd submit that primate research creates a much more muddled moral landscape that mouse research

            • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 01 2016, @02:02AM

              by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 01 2016, @02:02AM (#311879)

              I agree with the rest, but regarding "no reason": I don't think that is subjective in this case. If no matter what happens the results are consistent with your theory (that the mice can see better after treatment), then there is no point to doing the experiment. I'd hope this is a widely accepted position amongst those trained in the sciences. Widely accepted to the point it can be called "objective".

              • (Score: 2) by patella.whack on Tuesday March 01 2016, @02:16AM

                by patella.whack (3848) on Tuesday March 01 2016, @02:16AM (#311881)

                Well, 'no reason' is indeed subjective! If you approve of mouse experiments then you ascribe to a version of the utilitarian argument. Which is to say, that it's worth it to perform harm on the 'less' for the benefit of the 'more' (us.) So you see, you must put a subjective value judgment forward as to whether or not the mouse is less, and us is more.
                (As an aside, I'll just say that my comments are much broader than the narrow venue of applicability of accepted scientific results and the mechanisms of how you obtain them. So my perception of your milieu is that you may be somewhat young and versed in the mostly narrow operational scientific method, as taught today. That's a very valuable thing, and IMHO it is a process that contributes immensely to society. So there's really no reason for you to pursue or wonder about my comments unless you're interested in a more general perspective on the purposes behind things.) 'Good on ya' as the Aussies say, and good luck.

                • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 01 2016, @04:09PM

                  by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 01 2016, @04:09PM (#312200)

                  I still don't understand... what is the point of doing an experiment that can only yield results consistent with your theory?

              • (Score: 2) by patella.whack on Tuesday March 01 2016, @02:27AM

                by patella.whack (3848) on Tuesday March 01 2016, @02:27AM (#311885)

                BTW, why don't you just pick a name and sign in? You know, before too long people around here are going to start ignoring ACs, and I'd like to see you not get ignored.

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 01 2016, @09:41AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 01 2016, @09:41AM (#312047)

    ...just to make sure

  • (Score: 1) by pTamok on Tuesday March 01 2016, @09:46AM

    by pTamok (3042) on Tuesday March 01 2016, @09:46AM (#312049)

    According to Wikipedia, "In section the retina is no more than 0.5 mm thick." I'm not sure 'deep' is an appropriate adjective.

  • (Score: 2, Informative) by pTamok on Tuesday March 01 2016, @10:02AM

    by pTamok (3042) on Tuesday March 01 2016, @10:02AM (#312052)

    If you look here:

    "Retinitis pigmentosa (RP) is a group of retinal degenerative diseases in which there is a slow and progressive loss of photoreceptors. " (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11249772). It's a bit like 'cancer' in that we give a single name to a large variety of problems, so there isn't a single cause, and therefore, there is unlikely to be a single treatment. The genetics of RP are complicated.

    So, my reading of this article is that it is an attempt to sidestep a lot of the complicated issues - the approach is to replace photoreceptors by something completely different genetically, rather than try and repair photoreceptors that may have gone wrong in one or several of many different ways. The method is to ignore the photoreceptors (rods and cones) in place, and instead make the nerve cells directly sensitive to (blue) light.

    Simple anatomy of retina here: http://webvision.med.utah.edu/book/part-i-foundations/simple-anatomy-of-the-retina/ [utah.edu]