A project has launched with a €3.6M grant to treat neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s disease by making brain cells controllable with red light.
There are currently no treatments approved that can slow the progression of neurodegenerative conditions, including Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s disease. Treatments approved to alleviate the symptoms only help a small number of early-stage patients. The NEUROPA project — launched last month with a Horizon 2020 grant of €3.6M — aims to change this situation. It will do this by boosting the cognition of patients using light in an emerging field called ‘phytoptogenetics’.
Phytoptogenetics is a form of optogenetics, which is where viral vectors carry genetic instructions for making light-sensitive protein ‘switches’ called channelrhodopsins. The specific neurons expressing these proteins can then be controlled using beams of blue and green light. Unlike optogenetics, phytoptogenetics uses proteins called phytochromes, which are controlled by red and infra-red light. Red and infra-red light is better at penetrating the skull and brain tissue than blue and green light, so phytochromes allow a non-invasive method for controlling neurons.