A LED light implant used in the experiment to induce gene expression

Researchers demonstrate thought-control of gene expression

Swiss researchers have developed a method to control the conversion of genes into proteins by the power of their thoughts.

The science-fiction-like invention uses an EEG helmet to detect thought-specific brainwaves to initiate a reaction, which could one day, the scientists believe, open new possibilities for treatment of neurological diseases.

“For the first time, we have been able to tap into human brainwaves, transfer them wirelessly to a gene network and regulate the expression of a gene depending on the type of thought,” said Martin Fussenegger, Professor of Biotechnology and Bioengineering at the Department of Biosystems of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, who led the research.

“Being able to control gene expression via the power of thought is a dream that we’ve been chasing for over a decade.”

Inspired by the Mattel-developed game Mindflex, which uses brainwaves to steer a ball through an obstacle course, the researchers decided to wirelessly transmit brainwaves from the EEG helmet using Bluetooth. The brainwaves were subsequently turned into an electromagnetic field in a control unit and used to power an implant fitted with an LED lamp illuminating a cell culture with near infrared light. The illumination then triggered the production of the desired protein in the cells.

“Controlling genes in this way is completely new and is unique in its simplicity,” said Prof Fussenegger.

The researchers opted for the infrared light as it doesn’t harm the cells while penetrating deep into the tissue.

In an article published in the journal Nature Communications, the team has described using the system first on cell cultures and further demonstrating its viability on mice.

Multiple test subjects, divided into three groups, were asked to control the protein expression by their thoughts. In the first group, the test subjects were made to concentrate their mind by playing Minecraft on a computer. This group only achieved limited results, as measured by the concentration of the protein in the bloodstream of the mice. The second group, in a state of meditation or complete relaxation, induced a much higher rate of protein expression. The third group, using the method of biofeedback, was able to consciously turn off and on the LED light implanted in the body of a test mouse.

The researchers hope the method could be further developed and used in treatment of multiple conditions including chronic headaches, back pain and epilepsy.

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