- Researchers are figuring out how to use electricity to control gene expression.
- A diabetic person might one day use a mobile app on their smartphone after a meal to send a signal to their implant and release insulin into the blood.
- The research is led by Prof. Martin Fussenegger of the Biotechnology and Bioengineering in the Department of Biosystems Science and Engineering at ETH Zurich in Basel.
- The research team used a mouse model to demonstrate that electricity can be used to control gene expression.
- The team already made gene circuits and implants that can respond to different conditions in the body such as low or high blood sugar levels or lipid levels.
- The technology can be influenced using drugs and other molecules, and they can also respond to other stimulus like light.
- The device includes a printed circuit board with a receiver and a control unit. The other part of the device holds a capsule which contains human cells with genomes in their nuclei. The capsule is connected to a cable linking with the PCB. Radio signals trigger the implant and transmit the signal to the cells.
- The electricity affects channels in the cell membranes which changes the concentration of ions in the cells. The change in ion concentration triggers a signaling pathway that controls gene expression of insulin. The vesicles are then loaded with the insulin and the electricity causes the vesicles to merge with the cell membrane so that the insulin are released.
- With this technology, it is possible for a remote doctor to trigger an insulin production to a patient.
- One obstacle with the development is that researchers still have to know the best electrical current for the device. The connections between the electronics and the biological cells needs to be optimized.