As reported on www.express.co.uk a new project is unlocking the secrets of the brain using light – and raising hopes for a new class of drugs to treat psychiatric diseases. The research could lead to pills being developed to combat depression, anxiety, paranoia and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
American scientists implanted special light-sensitive proteins into the brains of rodents and used fibre-optic filaments to stimulate and monitor the animals’ responses. The breakthrough process allows the researchers to control specific pathways in the rodents’ brains and measure the effect of differing levels of light. The research could herald “a new chapter” in how we treat mental disorders, the scientists say. Researchers also believe their work could slow the ravages of dementia by stimulating brain activity.
Dr Karoly Nikolich, of Circuit Therapeutics, said: “It is very promising and we are heading for an entirely new chapter in how we can treat these conditions. It is only a matter of time before the drugs are developed. The tools we can use are becoming more sophisticated and we have so much data as we understand more about the genome [human DNA]. Our goal is that people with depression, anxiety and OCD will be able to take a pill to modulate their behaviour and responses.” The pill could also replace certain anti-psychotic drugs and arrest the growing use of antidepressants.”
The major stumbling block in developing new drugs has been the restrictions on studying the human brain but bioengineering professor Karl Deisseroth, of Stanford University, in California, perfected a process called optogenetics. This uses light to unravel the brain’s wiring and behaviour patterns. Scientists at Circuit Therapeutics took it a stage further with their research on the use of rodents.
Dr Nikolich said: “We can activate and inhibit responses. From behaviour patterns in rodents, a drug can be developed and the end result is one drug which will modulate a circuit which could be anxiety, reward, fear or the components of most conditions.”
He said the research could have an impact on dementia by improving neural activity but its most promising target is in dealing with the inhibition of pleasure, which is a major factor in depression, anxiety and OCD.
“We may be 10 years away from the first drug but we have a start and we believe this will yield great results and help reduce the burden of mental health in society.”
Article taken in part from www.express.co.uk
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