Major Grant to Develop Optogenetic Methods
14 July 2011
Interactions between biomacromolecules play crucial roles for controlling cellular processes in both health and disease. These interactions are usually weak and therefore difficult to target with conventional drugs. New “optogenetics methods” are now allowing a research team at Cardiff University to control molecular interactions in live cells using light. Developments in this area of research are cutting-edge - the prestigious journal ‘Nature Methods’ recognised Optogenetics as their Method of the Year for 2010. A team led by Professor Rudolf Allemann in the School of Chemistry has been awarded a research grant of £550K, ‘Controlling cell death and proliferation with encodable visible-light-responsive proteins’ by the UK’s BBSRC. This work is a continuation of a highly successful Biophotonics collaboration between Allemann and his team in Chemistry and the groups of Prof Paul Smith and Dr Rachel Errington in Medicine and Dr Arwyn Jones in Pharmacy. It is based on work done under a £1.5 Million EPSRC-Basic Technology Grant.
The team will exploit naturally occurring proteins that allow the sensing of blue light, oxygen and voltage changes. These sensors will be used to create genetically encoded proteins for the control of cellular processes, in real time, by exposure to light pulses. Since the sensor technology is based on mechanisms already operating in nature, the activation process is non-toxic to cells and uses light wavelengths with good tissue penetration. The research has enormous potential for the study of biological processes and for therapy.