Scientists remotely activate and deactivate genes

Geneticists at Rockefeller University in New York have demonstrated the ability to remotely activate and deactivate specially engineered insulin production genes in mice through the use of radio waves.

As unbelievable as it sounds, this could represent a radically new understanding of how genes work as well as the ability to create an entirely new field of medical treatments. Like many cutting edge technologies such as mind-controlled robots, new lifelike humanoid robots and microchips allowing mobile devices to see through walls and other objects, I see this breakthrough as having either radically beneficial or unimaginably detrimental uses in the future.

Unfortunately it has become quite clear that the pharmaceutical industry and the agencies that supposedly regulate them, like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are far from trustworthy. This latest advance could give scientists the ability to remotely modify the activity of genes without any surgery or even traditional drugs.

However, while they bill the treatment as completely non-invasive, that is not entirely accurate. The researchers did, in fact, have to inject nanoparticles into the mice being studied in order to affect the genes. Currently the lead author of the study, Jeffrey Friedman, says that this will be applied to research, allowing scientists to manipulate cells in a non-invasive manner. Yet Friedman, a molecular geneticist, says that if this technique is continuously refined it could also have clinical applications. This study, called “Radio-Wave Heating of Iron Oxide Nanoparticles Can Regulate Plasma Glucose in Mice” was published in Science earlier this month.

The process which Friedman and his colleagues used involved coated iron oxide nanoparticles with antibodies which then would bind to a modified version of an ion channel on the surface of cells. The target was a modified version of the temperature-sensitive ion channel known as TRPV1 and the researchers injected the particles into tumors growing under the skin of the mice being studied. The researchers then utilized a magnetic field created by a piece of hardware somewhat like a downsized magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) device to heat the nanoparticles. Low-frequency radio waves targeted the nanoparticles and heated them to 42 degrees Celsius, at which point the ion channel was activated, allowing calcium to flow into the cells and trigger secondary signals, which then went on to activate an engineered calcium-sensitive gene which produced insulin.

After a mere 30 minutes of being exposed to the low-frequency radio waves, the insulin levels in the mice increased and their blood sugar levels dropped as well. However, Friedman emphasizes that this is not being done in order to create a new treatment for diabetes. Instead, it was just used because it provides an easily measured physiological variable to monitor the activity of the remotely controlled genes.

“There are many good treatments for diabetes that are much simpler,” Friedman said, while recognizing that it could potentially be used to activate other proteins to treat other conditions as well. Using these low-frequency waves seems to be one of the most key components to this research. “The great thing about this system is that radio-wave heating can penetrate deep tissue, and TRPV1 can focus that stimulus very locally to just where you have the nanoparticles,” said David Julius, a physiologist who studies TRPV1 at the University of California, San Francisco, according to Nature.

This research is just in its fledgling stages at the moment and this study is more of a proof of concept than anything else. That being said, if this is developed and applied to some of our hardest to tackle illnesses, I believe this could be a major breakthrough for human health. Yet at the same time, I could see this being used for less-than-admirable purposes as well, including actually making people sick. Hopefully such a thing would never occur, but unfortunately the pharmaceutical industry has proven that they are interest in profits, not health, so it wouldn’t be all too surprising, in my humble opinion

This article first appeared at End the Lie.

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