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LZH launches optogenetics innovation network

16 Feb 2017

Project for Germany intends to unlock the potential of light-controlled biomolecules.

German laser research organization Laser Zentrum Hannover is working on a new project to establish a national network on optogenetics, within the framework of the BMBF (German Federal Ministry of Education and Research) initiative known as Innovation Forums for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises.

The proposed network is intended to pool the competencies of the relevant research fields to unlock the potential of light-controllable biomolecules in combination with the latest photonics techniques. LZH intends to support the development of new approaches in biomedical sciences – for example, in treatments for neurological diseases.

Light pulses can trigger reactions in biological tissue, and thus control a number of different processes. Muscle contractions, nerve impulses or certain intermediate metabolic products can be induced. These mechanisms are the basis for many new applications in biomedical sciences, robotics and biotechnology. First studies have already confirmed promising approaches, for example for improving neurological implants.

Biomedical experience

LZH spokeswoman Melanie Gauch told optics.org, “biomedical applications of photonics has been a topic of interest at the LZH for more than a decade. Our main areas of interest are: biophotonic therapeutic and surgical methods; imaging processes for the investigation of cellular and molecular vital processes; and photonic system solutions for medicine and biotechnology.”

“Optogenetics, which is a new fundamental technology based on of optics and genetic engineering, adopts methods from both of these disciplines. The goal is to use these methods for progress in biomedical sciences and other areas.”

LZH believes that in order to exploit the numerous possibilities of optogenetics, close cooperation between diverse branches of studies is necessary – from molecular biology to laser physics. The project’s launch statement said, “Through an intensive dialogue between research, economy, the public and politics, fundamental knowledge from the laboratory could be more quickly transferred to innovative processes and products the benefit of the society. Against this background, the LZH has initiated the Innovation Forum Optogenetics – Technologies and Potential.”

With the ten-point program called SMEs First, the BMBF is supporting small and medium-sized enterprises to generate new ideas and applications based on the latest research. Innovation forums for medium-sized businesses are a central component in this objective.

From the 99 project sketches from the first application round of the program, the BMBF asked a shortlist of 21 to submit project proposals, including the LZH. “We are proud to be able to expand our concept in a proposal,” explains Dr. Dag Heinemann, Head of the Biophotonics Group at LZH.

The Industrial and Biomedical Optics Department is already cooperating with the Center for Applied Nanotechnology, LifePhotonic, the Hannover Medical Schooland Universitätsklinikum Bonn in the area of optogenetics.

LZH started working with applications of optogenetics in 2016 with the development of a biohybrid cardiac pacemaker.

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