We’ve covered a number of advances in optogenetics, a relatively new technique of using light to turn on and off the production of proteins by specific genetically engineered cells. A major limitation in studying the results of optogenetic techniques in mice has been having to use a fiberoptic cable to deliver light into the animals’ bodies. This prevents the mice from interacting with each other because the cable can be easily damaged. Specifically, trying to implement optogenetics for pain control in mice, or to study other pain management modalities, is difficult since the mice won’t tell you how much pain they’re feeling. Instead, watching how the mice interact with other animals is an indirect indicator of the pain control, because animals in pain tend to minimize their socializing, etc.
To overcome this, researchers at Stanford are working on tiny implantable light sources that can be activated remotely via a wireless connection to turn on and off. This will allow future optogenetic researchers to study various techniques on animals in their natural environment, more quickly and reliably obtaining the results of their studies without having to fear tangled wires and injured mice.