Nerve cells coated with light-sensitive proteins may hold the key to restoring movement in paralyzed limbs, according to a new study from Stanford University's schools of medicine and engineering.
A study on mice bioengineered with optogenetics (a technology allowing researchers to insert a photo-sensitive algae gene into the animals' genomes) showed that exposing the mouse's nerves to light (optical stimulation) can trigger muscle activity.
"Our group's focus is on restoring optimal movement for people with physical disabilities. With optical stimulation, we were able to reproduce the natural firing order of motor-nerve fibers -- an important step forward," study author and bioengineering professor Scott Delp stated in a press release.
Researchers found that placing a "cuff" fitted with light-emitting diodes (LEDs) around the light-sensitive nerves of the mice stimulated the muscle fibers of the animals and induced contractions.
Though the experiments' success is purely academic at present, future developments could lead to hope for restoring muscle movement in victims of stroke, spinal-cord or brain injuries and cerebral palsy, according to the statement.
The study was published online Sept. 26 in Nature Medicine. More information is available at mednews.stanford.edu.