October 31, 2014 | by Darcy Blake | It is fitting that I’d have a futuristic experience on Halloween. I even donned a costume of a blue gown, shoe covers and rubber gloves. But what I saw was no fantasy. It is the start of something so revolutionary for people with Parkinson’s Disease, it is mind-boggling. Today I toured Circuit Therapeutics, touted as the industry leader in optogenetics developing breakthrough therapeutic interventions transforming the field of drug discovery.
Optogenetics involves the genetic introduction of light-sensitive proteins (opsins) into electrically responsive cells, most typically neurons, to allow for light-mediated modulation of cellular activity.
Circuit Therapeutics describes it as such:
Spatially precise and selective: Through region-specific injection of viral vectors containing cell-type specific promoters, opsins can be targeted with a high degree of specificity to particular neurons of interest. Further, the opsin-activating light can be directed to specific locations in the brain, providing yet another region-specific targeting capacity of optogenetics.
Temporally precise: Optical control of cellular activation is both rapid and reversible and thereby allows an extremely high degree of temporal precision, especially when compared with current options, such as pharmacological or purely genetic manipulations.
In Plain Language: Simply put, I watched science being made. I met one of the Circuit scientists who is in charge of the mice who are soldiering the initial tests on single cells that are zapped with something like a laser light which triggers the neurons that make us move or freeze. Circuit Therapeutics’ key technology, optogenetics, allows the control of individual nerve cells and circuits within the brain. Optogenetics may lead scientists to identify novel drug targets and approaches for drug development.
The scientist I met is deeply immersed in Parkinson’s Disease research. Not only that, he is a kind man who treats his fleet of mice with compassion. He seemed truly interested to meet a similar patient without a tail and he was thoughtful about explaining each step of his work to me.
Someday, when optogenetics becomes a treatment it may be even more exacting than Deep Brain Stimulation, without the burden of equipment implantation such as we have with DBS. It may be more selective than our current modes of treatment. It may be an improvement for the treatment of Parkinson’s Disease.
Optogenetics will take millions of dollars and time to evolve, and the Michael J. Fox Foundation has stepped up to the plate by giving Circuit Therapeutics a grant to do optogenetic research, (Optogenetic Restoration of Basal Ganglia Function to Treat Parkinon’s Disease.)
Thanks to the National Parkinson Foundation whose mission is to improve the lives of people with Parkinson’s disease through research, education and outreach, I had the opportunity to visit Circuit Therapeutics to see science actively working on behalf of Parkinsons’ Disease. It is an honor to share this news of hope with the Parkinson’s community.
If ever there was a time to contribute to Parkinson’s Disease, it is now. The National Parkinson Foundation’s Moving Day @ Silicon Valley event on April 25 is a perfect place to show your support. Working together, we can make great strides in science.
A very cool Nature video on optogenetics: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I64X7vHSHOE
Register for Moving Day: http://www3.parkinson.org/site/TR?company_id=5360&fr_id=1910&pg=company
About Parkinson’s Women Support The mission of Parkinson’s Women Support is to offer moral support, encouragement and camaraderie for women who are Parkinson’s Disease patients. Check out our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/parkinsonswomen