In a recent study published in Nature, scientists have demonstrated a breakthrough in controlling human genes with electricity. The researchers were able to trigger insulin production in human cells by sending electrical currents through an "electrogenetic" interface that activates targeted genes. This discovery could pave the way for wearable devices that program genes to perform medical interventions.
The potential applications of this interface are vast, with future developments aiming to deliver therapeutic doses to treat various conditions, including diabetes, by directly controlling human DNA with electricity. This advancement is particularly significant in the context of the growing interest in medical wearables, which are portable technologies designed to collect medical data or even perform medical interventions.
The device responsible for this breakthrough is called "the direct current (DC)-actuated regulation technology" or DART. It is a battery-powered interface that can trigger specific gene responses with an electric current. The researchers believe that DART represents a significant leap forward in achieving compatibility and interoperability between electronic and genetic systems.
The team at ETH Zürich, led by molecular biologist Jinbo Huang, had previously demonstrated the electrical activation of genes in a study published in 2020. In their latest research, they simplified the initial design by implanting human pancreatic cells into mice with type 1 diabetes and using electrically-stimulating acupuncture needles to switch on the genes responsible for regulating insulin production. As a result, the blood glucose concentrations of the model mice returned to normal levels.
The researchers believe that this electrical fine-tuning of gene expression sets the stage for wearable-based electro-controlled gene expression, potentially connecting medical interventions to an "internet of the body" or the "internet of things." They anticipate that electrogenetic interfaces like DART hold great promise for future gene- and cell-based therapies.
While this research is still in its early stages, it opens up exciting possibilities for the development of wearable devices that can directly control genes for medical purposes. The implications for treating various conditions, including diabetes, are significant. However, further research and development are needed to fully realize the potential of this breakthrough.