Non-neural optogenetics and cancer treatment

May 31, 2017
Newsweek's May 16th report on exciting new results in non-neuronal optogenetics synchronously corroborates BioOptics World's May 2017 feature, "Beyond the brain: Non-neural optogenetics."
Barbara G 720

Newsweek's May 16th report on exciting new results in non-neuronal optogenetics synchronously corroborates BioOptics World's May 2017 feature, "Beyond the brain: Non-neural optogenetics."

Newsweek highlighted work by University of Rochester immunologist Minsoo Kim and colleagues to increase the effectiveness of immune therapy for cancer treatment through the application of light.1 The researchers used blue LEDs in their studies on mice, and flow cytometry to analyze their results. They demonstrated that the extraordinary optical control afforded by optogenetics to stimulate intracellular Ca2+ signal can dramatically improve immunotherapy in vivo by boosting T cell immune responses in tumors.

As if that weren't promising enough, the researchers' publication in Nature Communications further implies that light stimulation may set off anti-tumor responses outside of the light's illumination field, triggering systemic effects. Wow!

The Newsweek article supports what Princeton professor Jared Toettcher told me: While the field of neuroscience has a few years' head start and has already been revolutionized by optogenetics, "protein-based tools are finally becoming mature, plug-and-play reagents (more or less at the level of fluorescent proteins), light delivery is getting easier, and actual applications studies—using optogenetics to learn new biology—are finally getting off the ground."

The past few years have seen a huge emphasis on the development of photosensitive molecules for cell biology applications, with a resulting "proliferation of light-gated proteins," Toettcher points out. Besides the light-controlled ion channels used in neuronal optogenetics, "we have a very developed toolbox of light-controlled kinases, protein-protein interactions, and now even light modulation of the phase of matter of different proteins (from liquid droplets to gels and aggregates)." So now—as evidenced by the Newsweek piece—"we are shifting to seeing papers on applications of these tools."

Newsweek writer Jessica Wapner quoted Yale School of Medicine professor Derek Toomre as saying, "Using light to control cellular activity will continue to grow at an extraordinary rate." Toettcher thinks that optogenetics promises a particularly dramatic impact on developmental biology because of the need for precise spatial and temporal control of protein activity: "Being able to 'turn on' a cell at a specific time and location in a developing organism will be revolutionary."

The BioOptics World article describes some developments in optics and photonics that cell researchers are looking forward to. And they really are looking for new products because, as Toettcher said, most light-delivery devices "are still built à la carte in the labs that are doing the work."

Clearly, there's plenty of opportunity available for all involved.

1. K. Kim et al., Nat. Commun., 8, 15365 (2017); doi:10.1038/ncomms15365.

About the Author

Barbara Gefvert | Editor-in-Chief, BioOptics World (2008-2020)

Barbara G. Gefvert has been a science and technology editor and writer since 1987, and served as editor in chief on multiple publications, including Sensors magazine for nearly a decade.

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