“We can do digital shutdown of neurons.” –Dr. Ed Boyden, Neuroscientist, MIT
Optogeneticists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed two microbial proteins which when genetically engineered into brains (so far they’ve only been spliced into flies, mice, and monkeys), have the ability to turn neurons on and off when exposed to blue laser light. The technology, as reported by New Scientist, is hoped to be used in treatment of neurological diseases, including Parkinson’s and blindness, and may be beneficial to those who have suffered neurological injury as well. But the buck doesn’t stop there.
“We can use these tools for real principles of treatment,” Dr. Boyden continues, indicating that this new technique, which can in theory turn off a brain, could be used in conjunction with medications to treat psychiatric illnesses as well. The major issues, of course, are safely transferring the DNA sequences to humans and exposing those neurons to the light. How might this be accomplished?