Start-up plans to install a human muscle switch

A start-up called LucCell is beginning clinical development work on molecular light switches, a genetic technology that promises to help the paralyzed breathe and gain bladder control. Spawned by scientists at Case Western Reserve University, researchers have taken a technology that was developed to study neuroscience to step in when brain signals can't reach their intended target.

The gene for a light-sensitive protein is dispatched to a specific tissue by means of a commonly used virus. Once taken into a cell, explains MIT Technology Review, it triggers a protein production process that allows the cell to be triggered by light. Once the neurons that control muscles can be made light sensitive, an implanted light source can be used to control the muscle, offering someone who's paralyzed the chance to control their diaphragm and sphincter.

"We believe the light-switch technology could be most readily applied to those targets because they require just one or two muscles--the diaphragm for breathing, and the external sphincter for bladder function," Case Western neuroscientist and LucCell President Jerry Silver tells Technology Review. "I'm really optimistic that we can help people."

- read the story from MIT Technology Review