New research about treating brain disorders with lasers

New research about treating brain disorders with lasers

New research project, NEUROPA, targets the progress in photonics, neuroscience, and medicine by developing a non-invasive means of modulating specific neural pathways in the brain. The ultimate aim of the initiative is to provide the treatment and alleviate the long-term brain dysfunction in some neurodegenerative conditions such as Huntingdon’s or Alzheimer’s disease.

Worldwide, there are a vast number of people suffering from brain disorders. According to some estimates in Europe, there are 83 million people affected. Currently, treatment of the neurodegenerative disorders is aimed at alleviation symptoms. Most of them are effective only for a small number of early-stage patients. The NEUROPA initiative aims to improve patients’ cognitive abilities using light in combination with the phytoptogenetics – an emerging field of biotechnology. Phytoptogenetics is a form of optogenetics, which is where viral vectors carry genetic instructions for making light-sensitive protein ‘switches’ called channelrhodopsins.

Long-term modulation of targeted neural network activity will be achieved by activating light-sensitive protein “switches” – phytochromes – in specific neurons located close to the brain surface in Alzheimer's patients. The control of neural networks will be implemented through the activation of cortical projecting neurons using infra-red light. Since radiation in this range penetrates the skull and brain tissues better than blue and green light used in optogenetics, the expression of light-sensitive proteins can be controlled noninvasively using new compact NIR lasers. For that, new phytochrome viral vectors carrying genetic instructions will be delivered to specific brain regions or cells. The interactive control of the brain cells network activation by photo-switchable phytochromes will be monitored by a variety of optical methods including the use of diffusing wave spectroscopy blood flow detection.

-Noninvasive brain-sensing has been among our research topics for about ten years, developing the methods of brain hemodynamics monitoring. In parallel, we have developed a technology for the manufacturing of optical analogs of biotissues (biotissue phantoms), including the human brain. These phantoms are used for calibration of optical measurement techniques and assessment of some specific parameters that are not easy to assess at in vivo measurements, for example dose of optical radiation that the brains are exposed to during the transcranial illumination, clarifies scientific project coordinator Alexander Bykov from the University of Oulu, Optoelectronics and Measurement Techniques research unit.


The Optoelectronics and Measurement Techniques Research Unit (OPEM) specializes in pioneering and development of the photonics-based tools and sensors for noninvasive biomedical measurements. In the NEUROPA project, its activity will be focused on the development of brain tissue phantoms, modeling and developing novel measurement methods for activating and controlling the network activity of brain cells. The research at OPEM is directed by professor Igor Meglinski and coordinated by adjunct professor Alexander Bykov.

The NEUROPA project was launched with a prestigious grant of 3,6 ME awarded by the European Commission under the Future and Emerging Technology programme. The research and innovation activities of the project will be conducted over three years. The NEUROPA consortium, led by Aston University (UK), includes academic and industrial partners from the University of Bayreuth (DE), University of Oulu (Finland), University of Barcelona (Spain), Pharmacoidea Ltd. (Hungary), Sorbonne University (France) and DLM Consultancy Services Ltd (UK). Each partner brings to the project highly specific skills and knowledge from the fields of phytoptogenetics, photonics, genetic engineering and medical imaging.

Picture: Sample of the brain tissue before the characterization with the laser-based imaging system.


Last updated: 3.3.2020