Wow! I jsut finished this article on optogenetics in wired. Basically it involves targeted neuron therapies involving the typical stuff of gene therapy with an amazing optical twist.
1. isolated gene for expressing protein (in this case light sensitive from algae)
3. Using light to activate de-activate the protein function (that is pretty wild).
Instead of biomarkers the researches in the article above are using light to induce function both for activation and de-activation of the desired protein state and they are doing it in mammalian brains. It is huge stuff and an incredible case of lateral thinking. The article link above does the technology great justice for the layperson and almost warrants (for me at least) re-subscribing to wired. Wired has sadly become a rather tired mouthpiece touting the latest MSM offerings pop-tart culture and gadget Version X.0 fanboy gunk.
The interesting things is that instead of typical gene activation, de-activation functional regimes such as SiRNA and related block-out, knock out schemes this one can be activated with remote stimuli and toggled on and off at rapid rate. How cool is that?
Now ideally the desired behaviour is induced relative to functioning normal bio-feedback loop, but when those fail and the causal chain isn't fully understood this looks like a great shortcut. Flip a light inside the organism and the proper function is expressed. Imagine turning on and off a neuro-transmitter related illness like a light switch.
The only cause for pause in my mind is that many bio-feedback loops have dampeners, gain functions and inhibitors for good functional reasons. The risk is that without understanding the reason for a failed or over-stimulated loop such as parkinsons etc. is the solution/therapy may lead to downstream physical bio-chemical issues or cascading factors as people will use the "desired physical" output potential to achieve a bio-process detriment due to the lack of dampening feedback.
A way to think of this is the learning function of pain. In the organism we experience the neural feedback of "pain" in response to physical stimuli that harm us or induce a change in state that means we should limit the current activity or risk physical harm to the organism.
Regardless of the current risks, the world of optogenetics is opening some amazing ways to control neuronal processes as well as monitor them in real time and at localized scale. Other optical and non-optical bio-markers mean that true functional biological models and therapies are getting closer, this is a good thing. ...and the singularity inches forward another notch.