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Light-sensitive photoswitches could restore sight to blind retinas

In Health on November 1, 2006 at 5:14 am

(Nanowerk News) A research center newly created by the University of California, Berkeley, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) aims to put light-sensitive switches in the body’s cells that can be flipped on and off as easily as a remote control operates a TV.
Optical switches like these could trigger a chemical reaction, initiate a muscle contraction, activate a drug or stimulate a nerve cell – all at the flash of a light.
One major goal of the UC Berkeley-LBNL Nanomedicine Development Center is to equip cells of the retina with photoswitches, essentially making blind nerve cells see, restoring light sensitivity in people with degenerative blindness such as macular degeneration.
“We’re asking the question, ‘Can you control biological nanomolecules – in other words, proteins – with light?'” said center director and neurobiologist Ehud Y. Isacoff, professor of molecular and cell biology and chair of the Graduate Group in Biophysics at UC Berkeley. “If we can control them by light, then we could develop treatments for eye or skin diseases, even blood diseases, that can be activated by light. This challenge lies at the frontier of nanomedicine.”

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