Neurobiologist Luis Carrillo, of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), has developed a method to reprogram circuits or neuron groups affected by degenerative brain diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.
In an interview with Mexico's National Science and Technology Council (Conacyt), which announced the breakthrough on Thursday, Carrillo explained the primary goal of this method is to change activity patterns in specific neuronal groups.
Carrillo uses optogenetics and two-photon microscopy, involving the use of light to control neurons that have been genetically laced with light-sensitive proteins, called opsins, that glow when the cell is active.
Optogenetics is a technique used to turn on and off neuron groups based on the use of light, while two-photon microscopy allows the visualization of and manipulation of living tissue up to a millimeter in depth.
"It has been previously demonstrated that in several diseases such as Parkinson’s, schizophrenia or epilepsy, the activity of certain neuron groups is altered... This means that they have pathological activity or patterns of activity they should not have,” the scientist told Conacyt.
Carrillo used this technology for four years in Columbia University, in New York, where he was able to prove that the selective stimulation of a group of neurons created a type of artificial memory that could counteract the effects of degenerative diseases.
These techniques have not yet been tried in humans. “Every protocol to genetically manipulate human neurons is yet to be approved... My guess is we are still about five or 10 years away from the approval of these tests,” Carrillo said.
Now, Carrillo is "writing projects to Conacyt to request support and start establishing this technology in Latin America," he said.