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A New Study Shows That Light Stimulation Can Help Reduce The Size Of Tumors

A new study shows how light stimulation, when used with gene therapy, can help reduce the size of tumors. To date studies have been conducted using frogs.

The technique of using light for medical purposes is called optogenetics. This is a biological technique which involves the use of light to control cells in living tissue. The process uses specialized equipment to create the precise manipulation of electrical and biochemical events.

Optogentics has shown recent success when researchers injected the embryo cells of a frog with RNA encoding mutant oncogenes. These are genes that, under special circumstances, can transform into a tumoros cell.

After this, the scientists activated a blue-light for a positively charged channel in one set of experiments; and a green light in a second set of experiments. Both lights were known to polarize the frog’s embryonic cells. This process of inducing an electric current can transform the cells from a cancerous state (termed “depolarized”) into a healthy state (or “negatively polarized”).

The use of light and electrical charges is based on the biological fact that healthy human cells have a slightly negative charge. If a cell becomes positive, this can under certain conditions, lead to tumor formation.

The experimental results showed that both the blue light and green light can help to stimulate a cell into returning to a healthy state. This effect can also lead to the shrinking of tumors.

The study, in frogs, was designed as ‘proof of principle’ one. Further studies will need to be conducted to reproduce the results, and then to try out the light effect on animals. Things are a few years away from human trials. However, one day light could be used to combat oncogenic mutations at the cellular level.

The research is published in the journal Oncotarget. The paper is titled “Use of genetically encoded, light-gated ion translocators to control tumorigenesis.”

In other research, researchers have successfully used an implantable optogenetics stimulator that can be used to numb pain. This could lead to a treatment for chronic pain.

About the author

Tim Sandle

Dr. Tim Sandle is a chartered biologist and holds a first class honours degree in Applied Biology; a Masters degree in education; and has a doctorate from Keele University.