02:44pm Friday 20 October 2017

A Pathfinder for Optogenetics

FRANKFURT.Optogenetics is a new field of research that introduces light-sensitive proteins into cells in a genetically targeted manner, for example, to obtain information on signalling pathways and the function of neurons in a living organism. A new priority program supported by the German Research Foundation (DFG) under the auspices of Goethe University has now set itself the goal of developing the next generation of optogenetic tools and expanding their application both in basic research and also for medical purposes. DFG will provide six million Euros in funding for the programme over the next three years.

“We see our role as a pathfinder, to build a scientific network for optogenetics in Germany,” says Prof. Alexander Gottschalk, spokesperson for the priority programme “Next generation optogenetics: Tool development and applications”. After an application phase in the autumn of 2015, between 30 and 40 scientists from different universities will become involved; primarily biophysicists, cell biologists, chemists, medical scientists, and “photo-biologists.” These are the types of specialists who will search for new, light-sensitive proteins, which will be introduced into cells and act like light switches to turn cellular processes on and off.

“Optogenetics already has many applications in basic research, but as a technology it is still in its infancy,” explains Gottschalk. In order to achieve more widespread use of optogenetics in cell biology and neurobiology, the researchers want to develop new optogenetic tools. These will have higher light sensitivity, clarify the processes within individual cells and between different cells, and ultimately also be tested in animal models. This is necessary, especially with regard to medical applications; for example, for the enabling treatment of certain vision and hearing impairments or aspects of previously incurable diseases, such as Parkinson’s disease, seizure disorders, or cardiac diseases.

The scientists are placing special importance on informing the public about the opportunities and risks of optogenetics. This will be done through intelligible presentations for the lay public, and through articles on websites such as www.OpenOptogenetics.org, http://dasgehirn.info, and the future website of the research programme.

Information: Prof. Alexander Gottschalk, Institute for Biochemistry, Campus Riedberg, Tel.: (069) 798-42518, a.gottschalk@em.uni-frankfurt.de.

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