Scientists have constructed a device which enables human brainwaves to turn genes in mice on and off, suggesting potential ways of treating epilepsy, migraines, and pain management according to new research.
The mind-controlled tool connects a wireless brainwave monitoring headset to an implant in the mouse. The study, published in Nature Communications, a multidisciplinary natural sciences journal, suggests that genes can be regulated by human thought.
The implant, consisting of a tiny capsule filled with human cells, modified to be sensitive to light, and an LED light, was inserted under the mouse’s skin. Human brainwaves acted on the LED, which, in turn, modified the implanted gene.
Human volunteers, divided into three groups, were asked to mediate, play a game of Minecraft, or watch the light emanating from the mouse’s body as their brain activity was captured by the headset and analyzed. The recorded brainwaves were subsequently transmitted via Bluetooth to the implant as an electromagnetic field, which lit up the LED.
“These brain-wave patterns are recorded, processed, and then we designate a certain threshold. If the patter goes above the threshold level, it turns on a near-infrared LED for a defined period of time,”explained Martin Fussenegger, the project’s lead researcher.
“For the first time, we have been able to tap into human brainwaves, transfer them wirelessly to a gene network and regulate the expression of a gene depending on the type of thought. Being able to control gene expression via the power of thought is a dream that we’ve been chasing for over a decade,” said Fussenegger.
The ability to regulate gene expression, the conversion of genes into proteins, through thought has the potential to revolutionize treatments used by sufferers of migraines or those with epilepsy.
For example, moments before an epileptic seizure, the brain produces a certain type of electrical signal that triggers a light-activated genetic implant, which then generates the production of protein-based anti-seizure medication.
Although the research is promising, applications of the procedure in humans are a long way off, Kevin Gardner, a structural biologist at New York’s Advanced Science Research Center, told Live Science.