Manipulating The “Boss Gene” For Reprogramming Humans

 

It seems like everything is going wireless these days. That now includes efforts to reprogram the human genome. A new University at Buffalo-led study describes how researchers wirelessly controlled FGFR1 — a gene that plays a key role in how humans grow from embryos to adults — in lab-grown brain tissue. The ability to manipulate the gene, the study’s authors say, could lead to new cancer treatments, and ways to prevent and treat mental disorders such as schizophrenia.

It represents a step forward toward genetic manipulation technology that could upend the treatment of cancer, as well as the prevention and treatment of schizophrenia and other neurological illnesses. It centers on the creation of a new subfield of research the study’s authors are calling “optogenomics,” or controlling the human genome through laser light and nanotechnology.

The left image shows the gene FGFR1 in its natural state. The right image shows the gene when exposed to laser light, which causes the gene to activiate and deactivate.

The potential of optogenomic interfaces is enormous,” says co-author Josep M. Jornet, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering in the UB School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. “It could drastically reduce the need for medicinal drugs and other therapies for certain illnesses. It could also change how humans interact with machines.

For the past 20 years, scientists have been combining optics and genetics — the field of optogenetics — with a goal of employing light to control how cells interact with each other. By doing this, one could potentially develop new treatments for diseases by correcting the miscommunications that occur between cells. While promising, this research does not directly address malfunctions in genetic blueprints that guide human growth and underlie many diseases. The new research begins to tackle this issue because FGFR1 — it stands for Fibroblast Growth Factor Receptor 1 — holds sway over roughly 4,500 other genes, about one-fifth of the human genome, as estimated by the Human Genome Project, says study co-author Michal K. Stachowiak.

In some respects, it’s like a boss gene,” says Stachowiak, PhD, professor in the Department of Pathology and Anatomical Sciences in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at UB. “By controlling FGFR1, one can theoretically prevent widespread gene dysregulations in schizophrenia or in breast cancer and other types of cancer.”

The work — spearheaded by UB researchers Josep M. Jornet, Michal K. Stachowiak, Yongho Bae and Ewa K. Stachowiak — was reported in the June edition of the Proceedings of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

Source: http://www.buffalo.edu/