Mind-Control Device Allows Us to Turn Genes On and Off Using Only Our Minds
Swiss scientists have built a device that allows humans to determine gene expression using only the power of thought. Their experiment only tested the device on genetic expression in mice, but the researchers contend that their research applies to human genetic expression as well.
From the paper: "Here we report the design of a synthetic mind-controlled gene switch that enables human brain activities and mental states to wirelessly programme the transgene expression in human cells."
For the study, the researchers implanted the mice with devices that could turn their genes on and off, and fitted the human subjects with wireless headsets that consisted of EEG brain-computer interfaces. These EEG headsets picked up brain waves, which then sent corresponding signals to the devices implanted in the mice. As a result, the humans were able to alter the amount of a specific protein produced by the mouse by doing basic mental exercises such as biofeedback, concentration, and meditation. By switching their mental state from concentrated to relaxed or vice versa, they could turn the gene that produced the protein on or off at will.
[Credit: target="_blank">The Guardian]
The researchers believe that this device could have significant implications for the treatment of disease. Using this technology, people could potentially detect the illness in their brainwaves and then alter their gene expression at will in order to flood the bloodstream with genes that treat a disease, which would eliminate the need for chemicals to be externally applied. "This could change the treatment strategies of the future," said Martin Fussenegger, a bioengineer and leader of the project. "We've learned how to rearrange atoms into chemical structures and there are good success stories about using chemicals as drugs to treat diseases. But for me, using chemicals to treat bodies that are mostly about proteins controlling proteins has its limits. We want a device that does it all in the body, that interfaces with the physiology of the body."
There are several obstacles that need to be overcome before human testing can begin; for example, discerning signs of illness from a mass of brainwaves would be challenging, and more research would need to be conducted in order to determine which illnesses can be treated through gene expression alone. Even so, Fussenegger is optimistic that clinical trials with sufferers of chronic pain or epilepsy could begin within the next five years.