Method of the Year 2015 – Optogenetic control of cell fate

by Alexey Bersenev on January 1, 2016 · 0 comments

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Happy New Year, dear readers! :)
Every year we are picking the Method of the Year. The best method of the year should be relatively new (at least for human applications) and have huge potential impact in stem cell research/ cell-gene therapy and regenerative medicine field.

The Method of the Year 2015 – Optogenetic control of cell fate!

Optogenetics is relatively new field of biomedicine, which investigates ability of light to control cell function. The optogenetic tool is genetically encoded light-sensitive proteins within the cell. Historically, it was only tool for neuroscientists to control neural activity with spatiotemporal precision. Ten years ago, Karl Deisseroth and Edward Boyden published a seminal paper, where described activation of neurons expressing the light-sensitive protein channelrhodopsin-2. Today, the methodology spread to hundreds of labs around the world and proved to be remarkably reproducible. I was following recent advances in optogenetics and it made me think that this year was special for the field. Now, I’d like to highlight the major reasons for picking optogenetics as Method of the Year.

Public recognition
This year, Disselroth and Boyden were recognized for their contribution to development of optogenetics and awarded with the Life Sciences Breakthrough Prize. Optogenetics went mainstream (as never before) and was all over the news. It was a year of public recognition of optogenetics field’s enormous potential. It is important to acknowledge, however, that Boyden and Disselroth were not the first discoverers of optogenetics – core concept of it were established few years before them.

Optogenetics is going into clinical trials
This year, US-based company RetroSense Therapeutics, which commercializes optogenetic approach for treatment of blindness, won FDA approval for the first-of-its-kind clinical trial in retinitis pigmentosa.

Optogenetic control of stem cell differentiation and function
It the last few years optogenetics went beyond of neuroscience, but in 2015 we saw more progress in this direction. One of the most important advances of 2015 was study by Matt Thomson’s group on optogenetic control of neuronal differentiation in stem cells. Thomson went public and discussed his studies on Reddit AMA.
Another significant study from Stanford University, demonstrated that optogenetics could be used for investigation stem cell-derived neuronal cells engraftment and integration into host brain network in vivo. Similar approach was used by Lorenz Studer’s group to study function of grafted stem cell-derived neurons in Parkinson’s disease model.

How optogenetics could be used for therapies
This year, I saw more studies, which assessed therapeutic utility of optogenetics. The most interesting examples include using optogenetic tools in: cardiac pacing and resynchronization therapies, insulin secretion in diabetes, vision restoration.

Implantable wireless optogenetic devices
This year, optogenetics significantly advanced with introduction of small-sized wireless systems. Two studies described prototypes of wirelessly controlled implantable optogenetic devices – by Ada Poon and John Rogers. Function of both devices was described for nervous system, but this is just a first step. You may soon forget all these pictures with mice, tethered by head-mounted wires.

More precise control of subcellular structures
I was amazed by few studies, describing optogenetic control of: microtubule dynamics in mitosis, calcium channels in vivo and organelles transport and positioning.

Marriage of CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing and optogenetics
This year, many great studies came out, which described utilization of CRISPR-based gene editing and optogenetics together. Some examples you can find here, here and here.

I hope, I was able to convince you why optogenetics worth a pick as “Method of the Year 2015”. Because I’m not into neuro- field, I was blown away this year by progress and possibilities of optogenetics outside of neuroscience. I think, the future of this method is very bright. The only future problem (analogously to CRISPR gene editing, btw) with optogenetics could be a recognition of only 3 pioneers to nominate for Nobel Prize.

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