The newly created UC Berkeley/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Nanomedicine Development Center is developing a method to put light-sensitive switches in the body's cells that can be flipped on and off. Optical switches like these could trigger a chemical reaction, activate a drug, initiate a muscle contraction, or stimulate a nerve cell.
The Center is equipping cells of the retina with the photoswitches, making blind nerve cells see, restoring light sensitivity in people with macular degeneration. The method controls biological nanomolecules (proteins) with light, and involves altering an ion channel commonly found in nerve cells so that the channel turns the cell on when it is zapped by green light, and turns it off when hit with ultraviolet light.
The researchers believe that if they can control the nanomolecules with light, they can develop treatments for eye, skin, and blood diseases that can be activated by light.
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