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Controlling brain activity

US scientists have been able to activate cells in the brain using sound waves, in a move that could benefit treatment of conditions such as Parkinson’s and epilepsy.

Using ultrasound, the team at the Salk Institute, California, were able to control the activity of some neurons in the brains of mice, by genetically modifying them to include a gene which is naturally responsive to sound waves.

The technique is similar to optogenetics - controlling cell activity with light - but in this case there is no need for surgery to implant a device in the brain that will react to the light.

Published in Nature Communications, the results show that researchers could use these sound waves to specifically control movement in the legs of the mice.

“The potential for neuronal control [with ultrasound] is huge. It has applications for pacemakers, insulin pumps, and other therapies that we’re not even thinking about,” study author Dr Sreekanth Chalasani told The Scientist.

The next step now for the team is to find a way to add this gene to neurons in the human brain, to allow a response to the sound waves, however it is currently virtually impossible to deliver the gene to the correct place due to the difficulty of breaching the blood-brain barrier.

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