Institute of Molecular and Clinical Ophthalmology, Switzerland
From: Auckland, New Zealand
Category: Molecular Medicine
Title essay: Engineering near-infrared vision: An optogenetic technology inspired by snakes could aid those with incomplete blindness
Dasha is a medical doctor from Auckland, New Zealand. Her PhD in neurobiology was performed at the Friedrich Miescher Institute for Biomedical Research, Switzerland. She is currently a postdoctoral researcher at the Institute of Molecular and Clinical Ophthalmology Basel, Switzerland, working on the development of new therapies for treating retinal diseases that lead to blindness. She will soon commence specialist training in ophthalmology.
Enabling near-infrared light sensitivity in a blind human retina may supplement or restore visual function in patients with regional retinal degeneration. We induced near-infrared light sensitivity using gold nanorods bound to temperature-sensitive engineered transient receptor potential (TRP) channels. We expressed mammalian or snake TRP channels in light-insensitive retinal cones in a mouse model of retinal degeneration. Near-infrared stimulation increased activity in cones, ganglion cell layer neurons, and cortical neurons, and enabled mice to perform a learned light-driven behavior. We tuned responses to different wavelengths, by using nanorods of different lengths, and to different radiant powers, by using engineered channels with different temperature thresholds. We targeted TRP channels to human retinas, which allowed the postmortem activation of different cell types by near-infrared light.