Optogenetics is one of the most interesting and promising of the new technologies in science and medicine. It involves modifying DNA with genes that make light-sensitive proteins. Modifying neurons in this way makes them react when energized by light.
Most experimentation to date has focused on understanding how neural systems work and how they might be manipulated to provide light-based therapies for brain disorders. Now, optogenetics is being looked at as a potential means for controlling pain. In recent work, researchers used the optogenetic technique to modify nerve endings on the skin of mice. When the skin was exposed to blue light the mice exhibited pain reactions. When exposed to yellow light, they seemed unresponsive to pain stimuli.
Pain management is one of the main reasons people seek medical care in the first place. Imagine the benefit of being able to reduce or eliminate pain simply by using light.
Optogenetics has the potential to impact many areas. The genetic modification involved also raises moral and ethical questions. It will be fascinating to see how this technology develops.