Academics hope to enhance a new mouse model created to better understand how pain is transmitted in the body. Ada Poon, an assistant professor of electrical engineering at Stanford University, is working as part of a team to build a wireless device that incorporates existing optogenetics research.
Her work, as part of interdisciplinary efforts backed by the Stanford Bio-X program, will be based on existing research in which light is used to control the activity of neurons that transmit pain. This method uses genetically engineered nerves in mice that are responsive to light; one color of light stops the nerve from firing and prevents pain, while another color causes the nerve to fire and activate pain.
Poon is refining an existing device that works via a fiber-optic cable that restricts the movement of the mice. The concern is that this inhibition of movement makes the model less useful. She will create a wireless version that allows free movement for the mouse, more closely mirroring human experience.
“Right now, the only way to study pain is an indirect method,” Poon said in a statement. “What we will be able to look at is a more natural measure of pain relief.”
Poon will work with collaborators in bioengineering and anesthesia. The expectation is that this project could provide a more efficient means of studying and developing methods to combat chronic pain, which is estimated to have a $600 billion annual price tag for the economy.
This project is one of 22 projects funded recently by Stanford Bio-X seed grants, which aims to bring together interdisciplinary teams to solve a biomedical problem.