Technology Review – Optogenetics has been hailed as a breakthrough in biomedical science—it promises to use light to precisely control cells in the brain to manipulate behavior, model disease processes, or even someday to deliver treatments. Kendall Research, a startup in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is trying to free optogenetics from constraints. It has developed several prototype devices that are small and light and powered wirelessly. The devices would allow mice and other small animals to move freely. The company is also developing systems to control experiments automatically and remotely, making it possible to use the technique for high-throughput studies.
The device, which weighs only three grams, is powered wirelessly by supercapacitors stationed below the animal’s cage or testing area. Such supercapacitors are ideal for applications that need occasional bursts of power rather than a continuous source. The setup also includes a wirelessly connected controller that plugs into a computer through a USB. “It’s essentially a wireless router for the brain,” says Wentz.
Mind control: This optogenetics system makes it possible to control brain cells with light in freely moving animals. The prototype plugs in to an implant in an animal’s brain. Kendall Research
Wentz says that while the cost of the initial setup is comparable to a single laser system, it can be scaled up far more cheaply. This, coupled with the ability to remotely control experiments, would make it easier to conduct optogenetics experiments in a high-throughput fashion.
Kendall Research plans to make it possible to collect data from the brain through the device. The data could then be wirelessly transmitted to a computer. Sanjay Magavi, a research scientist at Vertex Pharmaceuticals, says while “it isn’t yet clear how this will be used in industry,” there’s increasing interest in using optogenetics in animals to develop more sophisticated models of disease for preclinical drug testing.