The greatest science fiction is that which predicts the future. For decades science fiction has played with the idea of brain control and how it might be possible to turn a person in to a robot. Now science fiction is becoming reality as scientists have discovered how to “take over” a brain after years of research.
Neuroscience, the study of brain function, has grown immensely since the MRI machine become widely used in the 1990’s. Now another field of brain study has branched off of neuroscience and grown into its own tree; optogenetics.
Optogenetics is the study of how specific cells in the brain work with the intent to be able to take over the independent function of these cells.
CNN defines optogenetics more specifically:
“Optogenetics involves inserting fiber-optics tools into an animal’s brain, in order to control the target neurons using pulses of light as a trigger.”
As scary as this may initially sound, there may be medical benefits to optogenetics. In recent studies scientists used optogenetics to look at Parkinson’s cells in animals. Parkinson’s disease is an illness that disrupts information processing by the brain. By using optogenetics scientists were able to study the circuitry of the disease instead of the symptoms. This new insight into Parkinson’s disease may lead to more effective treatments and possibly a cure.
The most famous case of Parkinson’s disease is probably Michael J. Fox, who had to quit acting for a number of years to get the disease under control. Recently it has been reported that boxer Manny Pacquiao may have Parkinson’s disease as well.
Here’s a video thoroughly explaining how optogenetics works to clear up any confusion and hopefully answer any further questions:
What do you think, are the medical benefits of optogenetics exciting or is the idea of brain control too inherently scary and dangerous?